Government

Just re-elected. U.S. Rep. Steve King already draws GOP rival

State Sen. Randy Feenstra to challenge fellow Republican in 2020

U.S. Rep. Steve King talks May 3. 2017, in the hallway during a reception by the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
U.S. Rep. Steve King talks May 3. 2017, in the hallway during a reception by the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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HULL — Randy Feenstra watched last November as fellow Republican Steve King pulled out a narrow 3 percent win in Iowa’s 4th District.

“Wow, we just about lost in the most heavily Republican district in Iowa,” Feenstra, a state senator from Hull, recalled Wednesday in an exclusive interview with the Sioux City Journal.

Feenstra, who has served in the Senate since 2009, said King’s close call led him to consider a challenge to the nine-term congressional incumbent in the 2020 GOP primary. After getting his family’s blessing over the Thanksgiving holiday, Feenstra said he spent the month of December speaking with a host of Republicans across the 4th District, which covers 39 northwest and north-central Iowa counties.

Those conversations, Feenstra said, confirmed he would have the electoral and financial support for a successful campaign, which he announced Wednesday.

“This isn’t a whim,” Feenstra told the Journal. “We weren’t going to do this unless there was a true passion for change in the 4th District. From the farming community to business people, people said, ‘It is time. We just need a fresh face.’ ”

In his official campaign announcement, Feenstra did not mention King by name but alluded to the many controversies surrounding the Republican congressman, whose staunch views on illegal immigration and support for politicians and parties with white supremacist ties has drawn widespread criticism.

“Today, Iowa’s 4th District doesn’t have a voice in Washington because our current representative’s caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table,” Feenstra said. “We don’t need any more sideshows or distractions. We need to start winning for Iowa families.”

King’s campaign responded quickly and forcefully to Feenstra’s primary challenge.

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King’s son, Jeff, who serves as his father’s campaign chairman, said Feenstra told him in late December, “I love your dad and I would never run against him.”

“Today, misguided political opportunism, fueled by establishment puppeteers, has revealed that Mr. Feenstra is easily swayed by the lies of the Left,” King said in a statement. “From his statements, it appears that Mr. Feenstra offers Republican voters nothing but warmed over talking points from liberal blogs and failed Democratic candidates.”

By launching his campaign 17 months ahead of the June 2020 primary, Feenstra said he increased the chances of a one-on-one matchup with King. Feenstra said “multiple” prospective GOP candidates, after learning of his campaign in recent days, told him they would not run.

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said the state party would remain neutral in a King-Feenstra race, and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst also would stay on the sidelines. King served as one of the co-chairs for Reynolds’ gubernatorial campaign last year.

“As we are in all legitimate primary contests, the Republican Party of Iowa will remain neutral in this race,” Kaufmann said. “The good people of the 4th District will have the ultimate say.”

Feenstra, who turns 50 Monday, has risen in his caucus to become assistant majority leader and chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy. Last session, Feenstra was a key architect of legislation that overhauled the state’s individual income tax system and produced the largest tax cut in the state’s history, according to GOP backers.

In his 4th District campaign website launched Wednesday — feenstraforcongress.com — Feenstra also describes himself as a “leading voice defending life” and protecting 2nd Amendment rights, as well as his role in passing the state’s voter ID law. He also cited his support for the state’s ag-based economy, renewable fuels and main street businesses.

Feenstra, who has won each of three terms unopposed, said Wednesday he is up to the task of waging a highly contested campaign for the first time in his political career.

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King’s controversial statements are well known to 4th District voters, Feenstra said, so he doesn’t plan to spend time rehashing them. Instead, he will continue to make the case he would be a more effective leader.

“I am not running against King. I am showing that a difference can be made,” he said.

In his announcement, Feenstra cited his support for President Donald Trump and the need for more “effective conservative leaders in Congress who will not only support his agenda, but actually get things done.”

Jeff King described Feenstra’s campaign as “an obvious attempt to undermine an effective and leading congressional ally of the president.” King noted Trump has referred to Steve King as “the world’s most conservative human being.”

In last fall’s general election, King survived the closest race of of his career, 51 percent to 48 percent over Democrat J.D. Scholten, a former professional baseball player making his first run for public office.

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