We’ve been here before only to be disappointed. Don’t hold your breath. But: Iowa Rep. Steve King could finally lose. Could, if the most recent polling is to be believed. The seven-term congressman with white nationalist sympathies, who represents a thick chunk of northwestern Iowa, is practically daring you to get your hopes up.
There was a time, a simpler time indeed, when King was just your garden-variety anti-immigration crank with a penchant for memorable gaffes. He’s since developed a taste, however, for racial theory, aligning himself with far-right European white supremacists who prattle on about birth rates. During a trip over the summer that was funded by a Holocaust memorial group, King had the gall, as HuffPost and the Washington Post reported, to hold an interview with a “far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties” during which he “spoke of the replacement of white Europeans by immigrants and criticized Hungarian American financier George Soros,” according to the Washington Post.
And here was Steve King on Tuesday morning, taunting anew:
King has survived this long for a few reasons. Most importantly, he represents an R+11 district that went for Donald Trump by 27 percentage points in 2016. And as a member of the agriculture committee, King ensures Iowa farmers are well taken care of and advocates strongly for such Big Ag interests as enhanced chicken torture. But King also benefits from being a gatekeeper in the Iowa caucuses. Republican presidential candidates from Mitt Romney to Ted Cruz and everyone in between have kissed the ring as they’ve tried to lock down support from the lord of the northwest.
King’s rhetoric has come under increasing scrutiny since the Tree of Life synagogue massacre over the weekend. A pressure campaign against his corporate donors has yielded a couple of victories so far: The Land O’Lakes PAC, which had donated $2,500 to his campaign, has said it would no longer support King going forward, as has Intel. The criticism of King reached enough of a pitch that Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, rebuked him in a tweet Tuesday afternoon.
A quick look under the hood of King’s campaign shows that it’s not in great health, either. His most recent fundraising disclosure showed that he only had $176,000 cash-in-hand after raising a mere $739,000 for the cycle. He hasn’t spent on television advertising, as he did during his last serious challenge in 2012, and some of his largest regular disbursements are salaries paid to his son and daughter-in-law.
King’s opponent, J.D. Scholten, a paralegal and former professional baseball player, has raised $1.7 million and has been running campaign ads. A fresh new poll released Tuesday morning from Change Research showed him within one point of Steve King. These factors led the Cook Political Report on Tuesday to move the race in Iowa’s 4th District from “likely” to “lean” Republican.
King responded to the news by releasing a private Republican poll of his own showing him ahead by 18 percentage points, 52 to 34. Throw all of these contrasting, partisan polls, fundraising reports, campaign strategies, district demographics, national atmospheres, and racist controversies together and what you get is … a lean Republican race, probably.
So on the question of whether King’s detractors should get their hopes up, I’d lean no. And would be happy to be proven wrong.
This post has been updated.