Iowa congressman Steve King loses Republican primary

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

Rep. Steve King of Iowa, whose history of racist statements resulted in years of criticism and eventually discipline from Republican leadership, lost his primary Tuesday night.

The winner of the five-way race was Randy Feenstra, a state senator who outraised King by several hundred thousand dollars and had won endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Right to Life Committee.

Last year King was condemned or outright abandoned by a number of Republican allies who stood by him through his long history of racist rhetoric when he asked, speaking to the New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Previously, King had attempted to defend his association with international far-right groups by saying, “If they were in America pushing the platform that they push, they would be Republicans.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, stripped King of his committee assignments. Iowa’s two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, who had campaigned with King in the past, condemned his comments. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she would stay out of the primary for King’s seat, after keeping the congressman on as a co-chair for her 2018 campaign. King had served as national co-chair of Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

“I think he should find another line of work,” Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said at the time. “His language questioning whether or not the notion of white supremacy is offensive is absolutely abhorrent, it’s racist, we do not support it or agree with it.”

Feenstra’s campaign did not focus on King’s history of racist rhetoric, except to claim that losing his committee assignments diminished his ability to work for his district, which covers the mostly rural northwest quadrant of the state. The state’s other three congressional seats are currently held by Democrats. 

“The Fourth District needs a seat at the table — an effective conservative voice,” Feenstra said during a debate in May. “Our district, our president, deserves an effective conservative leader in Congress.”

King said in May he would be restored to his committee assignments, although McCarthy said he would wait to let King formally make his case. Five members of the House GOP caucus donated to Feenstra: Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Paul Mitchell of Michigan, Steve Stivers of Ohio, Dusty Johnson of South Dakota and Will Hurd of Texas.

King defeated Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten by 3.7 percentage points in 2018, surviving controversy over his endorsement of a declared white supremacist in Toronto’s mayoral race and a meeting with an Austrian group associated with neo-Nazism. Some Iowa Republicans said that the narrow margin in his 2018 race — the tightest victory of his nine-term career in an extremely Republican district — showed him to be too vulnerable to be worth defending.

Scholten is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination and will face Feenstra in November’s general election.

Cover thumbnail composite photos: Getty images; AP