Four years ago, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst enthusiastically endorsed U.S. Rep. Steve King in his Republican primary race as a defender of life and liberty as well as “a friend to small businesses in our Iowa towns and the agriculture industry that helps drive our state.”
She won’t be endorsing her fellow Republican this time.
“I will not be endorsing anyone in that primary race,” Ernst said Wednesday about the four-way primary in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District.
King, who is seeking a 10th term in the U.S. House from western Iowa, is being challenged by state Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull; Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor, a former legislator; and retired Irwin businessman Bret Richards.
King recently called Ernst out on social media for her criticism of President Donald Trump’s tweets about four freshmen congresswomen of color. Ernst did not say whether King’s criticism had anything to do with her decision.
Trump tweeted that “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe ... why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how ...”
Ernst, who also is seeking re-election in 2020, said: “We should stay focused on debating the issues and the radical policy agenda they’re pushing,” an apparent reference to the congresswomen. Later, asked whether she thought the tweets were racist, Ernst said, “Yeah, I do.”
King shot back in a tweet: “@SenJoniErnst it’s “not constructive” to advance AOC’s #MobSquad #FakeNews narrative against @realDonaldTrump whose policies have lifted up ALL Americans.”
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Ernst has not spoken to King about their disagreement and did not indicate that she planned any further comment on it.
“Obviously, my statements are my own, and everybody’s statements will be their own,” she told Iowa reporters on a conference call.
King, who frequently has been criticized for comments others have called racist, has seen support from establishment Republicans drop this election cycle. For example, former Gov. Terry Branstad, now ambassador to China, has given money to Feenstra’s campaign. Last week, Bob Vander Plaats, president of the influential Christian conservative group The Family Leader, endorsed Feenstra.
Feenstra has raised more campaign money than King and has more cash on hand — $337,314 to $18,36, according to their respective Federal Election Commission reports.
The primary is June 2, 2020.
The King campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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