Is Steve King’s Record Of Hatred, Fear, And Xenophobia Finally Catching Up With Him?
Congressman Steve King's anti-immigrant, xenophobic rhetoric hasn't bothered his constituents for twenty years, but he suddenly finds himself the focus of controversy and possibly vulnerable. It couldn't happen to a more well-deserving guy.
Steve King has represented the Congressional District made up of most of northwestern Iowa since first being elected to Congress in 1996 and, during that time, has made a name for himself as one of the most conservative members of the House GOP Caucus, especially when it comes to immigration. Thanks to a serious of missteps, though, he finds himself with a real battle this year:
DES MOINES — Representative Steve King, the polarizing Republican from rural Iowa given to incendiary racial remarks, was expecting to glide to an easy victory next week, like all of his previous eight races.
With no radio or TV ads and no debates, his largest campaign presence was a Facebook page that specializes in trolling liberals with mocking memes.
But suddenly, the overlap of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting by a virulent anti-Semite and Mr. King’s latest racially tinged remarks, to a publication associated with neo-Nazis, have converged to add some drama to a re-election bid that once looked assured.
The head of the House Republican campaign arm, Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, delivered an extraordinary rebuke to Mr. King this week. Mr. Stivers said recent tweets and remarks by Mr. King, including an endorsement for a Toronto mayoral candidate who had previously recited the 14-word manifesto used by neo-Nazis, were tantamount to hate speech.
“We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior,” Mr. Stivers wrote.
In Des Moines on Thursday, Mr. King responded angrily when accused of sharing the same ideology as the Pittsburgh shooter, and he demanded that the man who made the suggestion be ejected from a candidate forum.
In an acknowledgment of the heat Mr. King is feeling, his campaign released its first TV advertisement Friday. (It turned out to be an expression of heartland pride and optimism recycled from his 2014 campaign.)
A public poll on Monday showed Mr. King leading his opponent, J.D. Scholten, by a single point. After news of the survey popped up on social media, money poured in to Mr. Scholten from around the country: $641,000 in 48 hours, his campaign said, enough to launch a 90-second TV ad of his own, featuring farmers, mothers and others who the campaign says are former King supporters.
Three large agriculture businesses — Land O’Lakes, Purina and Smithfield — announced they would no longer support Mr. King because his conduct did not represent their values. AT&T announced Friday that the employees who manage disbursements from its political action committee have determined that it will not make future contributions to him.
Douglas Burns, an owner of The Carroll Daily Times Herald and other newspapers in Mr. King’s deeply conservative district, which President Trump won by 27 points, said the Republican base was still with Mr. King, who remains the favorite to win. But Mr. Scholten was his first Democratic challenger not easily caricatured as a carpetbagger or a liberal. Mr. Scholten, 38, is a fifth-generation Iowan and former professional baseball player who is running largely on his biography, not ideology.
“I think Scholten’s strength is that he is an acceptable place for potentially a lot of Republicans or Republican-leaning independents to park a discontented vote,” Mr. Burns said.
He added that Mr. King has been running “the laziest campaign” he has seen. “King is a natural political animal. He’d maul Scholten in a debate, but he is just ignoring him. I don’t understand why.”
In contrast to the often elusive Mr. King, Mr. Scholten has crisscrossed the 39-county district in an RV named the Sioux City Sue, for the Gene Autry song, sleeping overnight in Walmart parking lots, while accusing the incumbent of ignoring constituents to pick fights on behalf of white nationalists.
“People have been frustrated with King for years but they haven’t had somebody else they could trust,” said Mr. Scholten, calling from his RV on Friday. “That’s why we made such an effort of getting out there to the people.” He is stopping in downtowns to encounter voters of both parties rather than just holding town halls that attract supporters.
The issues he talks about are mainly the high cost of health care and making a farm economy work for young people who keep moving away.
“Every time I fill up this RV with gas there’s usually a donation box for someone who just got sick or in an accident,” he said. “We live in the wealthiest country in the world and people have to beg to pay for their medical expenses.”
In the past, Iowans in the Fourth District rolled their eyes, or simply ignored Mr. King’s controversial statements about undocumented immigrants or Muslims that attract national outrage. He was a Republican whose views on abortion, taxes and gun rights were in step with the voters in northwest Iowa, the state’s most conservative region. Two years ago, he was re-elected to an eighth term by 22 percentage points.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Iowa’s senior Republican, declined to discuss Mr. King on Friday at a campaign stop for a different House Republican, Representative David Young. “I don’t want to give you any words that would detract from the importance of re-electing Young,” he said.
King is hardly new to controversy, of course. For years now, he has been among the most anti-immigrant, xenophobic voices in the Republican Party and while he was not initially a supporter of President Trump’s bid for office, he has rallied to Trump’s side since the Republican National Convention and has wholeheartedly endorsed the President’s xenophobic rhetoric and anti-immigrant positions. For the most part, though, King’s constituents in the largely Republican area of the state that he represents have ignored many of his most inflammatory remarks largely because, thanks to his seniority, he has been able to deliver benefits for the largely agricultural economy in the district and in no small part because, in all the years he’s been in office, there hasn’t really been any serious opposition to King from either Republicans in the district or from the Democratic Party. In 2016, for example, King won both the Republican Primary and the General Election by overwhelming margins.
Despite all that, with just 72 hours before Election Day, there’s at least some speculation that King’s rhetoric may finally be catching up with him. As noted above, he recently became a focus of attention when he backed a candidate for Mayor of Toronto, Ontario, Canada who is about as clear a white supremacist as you’re going to find in Canadian politics. This came around the same time that he met with the leaders of a far-right party in Austria that has roots in that country’s Nazi-controlled past and which has itself been a controversial part of Austrian politics for years now. King also granted an interview with a website linked to the party during his visit, which was funded by a third-party. After he returned to the United States, King justified his visit with the group by saying that the members of that party would be Republicans if they lived in the United States. All of this happened within days of the attempted mail bombings directed at George Soros and other Trump critics and last Saturday’s attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It’s as a result of these recent remarks that King has lost support from some of the biggest corporate entities that do business in his Congressional District and garnered criticism from at least some Republicans, such as retiring Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who said he is supporting King’s Democratic opponent. Additionally, the incidents have led to a spike in fundraising for King’s Democratic opponent and caused King to lash out at those who have tried to tie his rhetoric to that of the pipe bomb attacker and the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue.
Will all of this be enough to give King’s Democratic opponent the momentum he needs to overcome the advantages that King has notwithstanding his controversial remarks? On paper, it would seem like the answer to that question would be no. As I’ve noted before, King has been essentially untouchable electorally for more than two decades now and these reports are breaking so late that it’s hard to see King going down on Tuesday. This is also a Congressional District that President Trump won by twenty-seven points just two years ago, and in some parts of the district, Trump’s margin was even wider than that. Additionally, the recent poll showing King ahead by only a very slim margin should be taken with a grain of salt in no small part due to the fact that polling Congressional Districts is often quite difficult. In any case, it’s understandably tempting to believe that King has finally gone to far even for the conservative constituents has he represented for two decades, but given history it’s hard to believe that they’ll suddenly turn to a Democrat to accomplish that. Nonetheless, this race is worth keeping an eye on and, if King does go down there will no doubt be Democrats and Republicans popping champagne corks all over Washington.