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Rep. Steve King ousted: Iowa GOP nominates state Sen. Randy Feenstra

King’s loss comes after he was stripped of committee assignments

Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King faced the toughest primary race of his career Tuesday, and ended up losing to state Sen. Randy Feenstra.
Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King faced the toughest primary race of his career Tuesday, and ended up losing to state Sen. Randy Feenstra. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King lost his primary Tuesday night, ending a tumultuous career of nearly two decades in the House that saw him draw heat for a series of controversial and racist comments.

State Sen. Randy Feenstra was declared the winner of the 4th District primary over King, who lost his committee assignments last year after he questioned when terms like “white supremacy” became offensive in an interview with The New York Times. King has made several racist comments through the years, and he nearly lost reelection in 2018 in his deeply Republican northwest Iowa seat. 

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Feenstra was leading King, 46 percent to 36 percent, when The Associated Press called the race. King is the second incumbent to lose a primary this year, after Illinois Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinksi, who lost to a progressive challenger in March.

“I am truly humbled by the outpouring of support over the past 17 months that made tonight possible and I thank Congressman King for his decades of public service,” Feenstra said in a statement Tuesday night. “As we turn to the General Election, I will remain focused on my plans to deliver results for the families, farmers and communities of Iowa.”

GOP outside groups, including Defending Main Street, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, put money into the race to help Feenstra, and also out of fear that King would be a drag on the Republican ticket in November, when the state’s junior senator, Joni Ernst, is up for a second term.

Feenstra and his allies stressed King’s removal from his committees, as opposed to the comments that precipitated that punishment. 

“Our message has been focused on ensuring we elect an effective conservative that can deliver for the 4th District,” Feenstra said recently in response to emailed questions. “Since day one, we’ve focused on the difference between my record of actually delivering conservative results versus Congressman King’s rhetoric. He’s been talking about conservative ideas for 20 years but has only passed one bill that renamed a post office.”

Feenstra may have benefited from increased turnout due to every registered voter receiving an absentee ballot application amid the coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday evening, more than 61,000 Republicans had already voted absentee in the 4th District primary, already surpassing the 39,000 votes cast in the 2018 primary.  

Democrat J.D. Scholten, who lost to King by just 3 points in 2018, is running again and was unopposed for his party’s nomination Tuesday.

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Scholten took credit for King’s loss, saying in a statement, “Make no mistake — our campaign’s tremendous success, powered by an army of supporters and volunteers, defeated Steve King. Our first campaign began humbly in 2017, when establishment circles in both the Republican and Democratic party had written off this district as a lock for King. We knew differently.”

But Scholten faces a tougher race against a less controversial Republican this fall. 

Up until the primary, Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales had rated the race Tilt Republican. With King out, Inside Elections has shifted the rating to Solid Republican.

President Donald Trump carried the district by 27 points in 2016.

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