SIOUX CITY — J.D. Scholten, who fell just short of pulling off one of the biggest national upsets of the 2018 midterm elections, will seek a rematch with U.S. Rep. Steve King in 2020, citing continuing “vulnerability” of the outspoken Republican incumbent and a team of supporters ready to quickly ratchet up.
“It is night and day compared to last time. Last time, we hoped to win. This time, we know we can win,” Scholten said in an exclusive Journal interview for regional media.
Scholten on Monday morning officially aired his 2020 campaign announcement on a variety of platforms, with social media airing a special video with voice-over by actor Kevin Costner.
Scholten, who played professional baseball and worked as a paralegal before returning to his hometown of Sioux City and running for elected office for the first time two years ago, had a 2018 campaign ad in homage to “Field of Dreams.” Costner, who starred in the hit 1989 film set in Iowa, narrates Scholten’s new video, which is heavy on rural Iowa scenery and residents.
Coming so close to winning — losing by just 3 percentage points after King beat his 2016 opponent by 23 percentage points — factored into Scholten’s decision to run again, and he got a lot of encouragement.
“We created something pretty darn special, and I think a lot of folks don’t want it to just drop off or end,” he said. “Especially where we came from ... I was some sort of, just kind of thrown to the wolves. No one gave us much of a shot.”
Scholten said some supporters wanted him to run for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Joni Ernst. The Democratic establishment in Iowa and Washington, however, backed Theresa Greenfield, a Des Moines businesswoman and former congressional candidate, for the Senate race.
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“I would have a tough time running for Senate and watching King get re-elected,” Scholten said. “The other thing is that feeling of unfinished business.”
King, a Republican from Kiron, handily won eight terms in years when the Northwest Iowa congressional district had 50,000 to 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. For years, Democrats who sought to defeat the conservative King pointed to being able to turn Republicans from King, while bringing independent voters into the fold.
As King sought his ninth term, that playbook almost worked. Scholten methodically worked through the 4th District and raised $3.2 million for his campaign, which swamped the $865,566 that King raised. Scholten attracted national attention and hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-state contributions in the last weeks of the campaign, while some political action committees ran ads against King.
When the ballots were counted, King won by only 10,430 votes.
Scholten won six counties, including the five most populous: Woodbury, Cerro Gordo, Story, Webster and Boone. When Scholten won his home county of Woodbury by nearly 3,000 votes, 53 percent to 44 percent, it marked the first time King lost the congressional district’s most populous county.
Scholten is firing up the recreational vehicle he bought and dubbed the Sioux City Sue, to use with his continuing dogged approach to visit people in small population areas.
“We are gonna be breaking out the bus again,” he said. “I am ecstatic to be driving that thing again.”
He expects to bring in more than $3 million for the 2020 cycle.
“The way we ran last time, we don’t need to have a ton of money. But to have it earlier is just the biggest difference,” Scholten said.
An incident that fuels Scholten is his maternal grandmother in rural Lake Mills at Thanksgiving 2016, shortly before she died, saying, “J.D., you’ve got to take care of the farm.”
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Scholten said the key issues remain the same in the largely rural congressional district, where he said King hasn’t helped the 54,200 farmers. He said a stop at most convenience stores will show a donation jar for people needing money for major health care bills.
His theme again will be Fix, Fight, Secure.
“We have to fix health care, fight for an economy that works for all of us and secure our democracy by cleaning up Washington and getting money out of politics,” Scholten said.
This is a different year for King, with three fellow Republican competitors getting in the race early, so it is conceivable Scholten may not even face King in November. King was stripped of his House committee assignments after his January comments defending white supremacy in a national news story. King has maintained his comments were misheard.
The Republicans running in the 4th District are state Sen. Randy Feenstra of Hull, Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor of Sioux City, and former Irwin Mayor Bret Richards. Feenstra has jumped out to a large fundraising advantage in the race.
Scholten said he expects King has the inside track to winning the primary.
“It doesn’t matter who wins the primary, my issues will be the same,” the Democrat said. “If I had to bet, I’d say it is King. He’s never lost a race.”
No other Democrats living in the 39 counties of the 4th Congressional District have announced as candidates. Scholten said he expects no other Democrats will join the field.
He will hold a rally Monday in Sioux City and campaign Tuesday in Ames.