WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Firebrand U.S. congressman Steve King, who was called out by his colleagues last year for using hateful and intolerant rhetoric, is fighting for his political life in an Iowa primary where four Republicans are trying to take his seat.
Voters in his district have returned King to Congress before despite his incendiary comments, often directed against immigrants. Tuesday’s vote comes at a particularly charged moment in U.S. history as major cities have seen widespread protests over Minneapolis police killing George Floyd last week.
The House last year overwhelmingly voted to repudiate King’s comments questioning why “white supremacy” is offensive, with King himself joining in that vote. The House stripped him of his committee assignments as a result. A month later he wondered aloud whether the human race would exist without rape and incest, prompting renewed calls for him to step down.
King urged construction of a border wall in 2006, nearly a decade before Trump ran for president calling for the same.
The loss of his committee posts gave a new opening to King’s opponents to question his effectiveness. King’s leading rival, State Senator Randy Feenstra, bills himself as a “pro-Trump effective conservative.”
Major political players including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican consultant Karl Rove have backed Feenstra, who has raised nearly three times King’s campaign cash.
King calls his re-election race the “epicenter of the battle against the swamp.”
But it is the hardest re-election fight he has faced since his election to Congress in 2002. In 2016 King was a national co-chairman of Ted Cruz’ 2016 presidential campaign, and Trump met King in the Oval Office in 2018.
In 2018 Democrat J.D. Scholten came within 3 percentage points of beating King. Scholten is running again, unopposed, in the Democratic primary Tuesday.
If no one gets at least 35% in the Republican primary, the nominee will be chosen at a district convention.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker