GOP rallies behind effort to defeat Steve King

Top Republicans and conservative outside groups are rallying around Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingKey races to watch in Tuesday's primaries House Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground states Conservative lawmakers press Trump to suspend guest worker programs for a year MORE’s (R-Iowa) challenger ahead of the June 2 primary election, worried that the nine-term lawmaker’s record of inflammatory remarks will be a drag on the GOP everywhere. 

Party leaders such as Karl RoveKarl Christian RoveKey races to watch in Tuesday's primaries Republicans to target 115 Democratic state House districts Rove responds to reports he's advising Trump campaign MORE and Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversKey races to watch in Tuesday's primaries House Republicans voice optimism on winning back the House following special election victories The Hill's Campaign Report: DOJ, intel to be major issues in 2020 MORE (R-Ohio), the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, have donated to businessman Randy Feenstra, who has emerged as King’s top challenger for the Republican nomination in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District.

National groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Realtors and the Defending Main Street super PAC are spending heavily in favor of Feenstra. The challenger has also received endorsements from the National Right to Life Committee and the Republican Jewish Coalition, giving him key allies in the effort to unseat King.

ADVERTISEMENT

Feenstra’s internal polling shows he’s within the margin of error, and he’s built a commanding money lead over King, whose fundraising dried up after he was stripped of his committee assignments last year following his latest round of controversial remarks about race. 

“Yes, [Feenstra can win], and I think it’s important for the GOP that he does,” Rove told The Hill. “All the ugly, bigoted things Steve King says results in mud thrown on every other Republican.”

Scott Reed, a political strategist for the U.S. Chamber, said he’s worried that King is so toxic that it could drag down Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstKey races to watch in Tuesday's primaries The Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo rings the first opening bell since March MORE’s (R-Iowa) reelection bid, potentially imperiling the GOP’s Senate majority.

“We care about maintaining a Republican majority in the Senate, and we’re concerned Steve King will be an albatross to Joni Ernst,” Reed said. “She is going to need every vote in rural Iowa that she can get.”

The King campaign did not return a request for comment.

King has been remarkably resilient, despite routinely drawing national headlines and angry rebukes from his colleagues for remarks on immigrants, race and rape that are viewed as bigoted, racist and insensitive.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Normally, any incumbent being outspent this drastically by a credible opponent would be in trouble, but Republicans in the 4th District have stood by Steve King for years, even when he’s an embarrassment to the state,” said Sam Roecker, a Democratic strategist based in Des Moines, Iowa.

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who has donated to King’s campaign, said Iowans in the 4th Congressional District find King’s straight talk refreshing.

“The people of the district, they appreciate him,” Tancredo said. “They appreciate that he says what he says and how he says it. He’s to the point, and I think that will pay off for him. All the rest of this is a lot of extraneous noise.”

Still, King nearly lost to Democrat J.D. Scholten in 2018, prevailing by only 3 points in his ruby red district after winning by more than 20 points in 2016.

The Republicans and conservatives backing Feenstra believe that King has never faced a credible conservative challenger.

Primary races are notoriously difficult to poll, but the Feenstra campaign’s latest internal survey found him within the margin of error and trailing King by only 3 points, after trailing him by 31 points in January and by 7 points last month.

“It’s very difficult to unseat a House incumbent. That’s why it doesn’t happen very often,” Reed said. “Feenstra is trailing King today, but it appears the stars may be aligning for Randy. Feenstra has the financial resources and credibility as a candidate.”

Feenstra has raised about $850,000 this cycle and has about $430,000 in the bank. King has raised about $300,000 and has about $26,000 in the bank.

In addition, the U.S. Chamber, the National Association of Realtors and the Defending Main Street super PAC are each plowing six figures into the race in support of Feenstra, a rare occurrence for primary challenger trying to unseat a long-term incumbent.

The outside groups are arguing that King is no longer an adequate representative for his constituents because he’s been removed from his committee positions, including one on the Agriculture Committee.

“The negatives have just been increasing and increasing for Steve King, finally resulting in him having zero influence in Congress,” said David O’Steen, executive director for the National Right to Life Committee. “I think the district will realize if they want representation, they must support Randy Feenstra.”

The Chamber of Commerce is running a new ad in the district informing viewers that “King got kicked off the Agriculture Committee, hurting our farmers.”

ADVERTISEMENT

This week, King said GOP leaders told him that if he wins reelection, he’ll be reinstated to his committee assignments.

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTop GOP lawmakers invite Blue Dogs to meet with China Task Force over coronavirus probe Key races to watch in Tuesday's primaries Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE (R-Calif.) threw cold water on that idea on Friday.

"I never said that," McCarthy said. “Committee assignments are decided by the Steering Committee. He'll have the opportunity to make his case. I think members on the Steering Committee — I think he'd get the same answer that he got before.”

King was removed from the committees after questioning why terms such as “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” should be considered offensive. Last year, King made headlines for saying that half the world’s population is a product of rape.

It was the latest firestorm around King, who has a long history of inflammatory remarks about race and immigrants.

“I know Steve King. He was one of my closest friends in Congress and remains that way in my heart,” Tancredo said.

“I know he’s not a racist or a white supremacist. He’s not any of the nasty things they call him. I know how he feels about borders and illegal immigration. You can support the concept of secure borders and illegal immigration and not be a racist. And that’s where he is and where he’s always been, and the people of his district know that he’s not a racist or a xenophobe or a white supremacist, so I think he’ll be fine.”