- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra said Wednesday he will try to unseat Rep. Steve King in a Republican primary next year, calling the nine-term incumbent too radioactive to be a credible conservative warrior anymore.

“We don’t need any more sideshows or distractions, we need to start winning for Iowa’s families,” Mr. Feenstra, member of GOP leadership in the state Senate, said in a statement announcing he’d formed a federal campaign committee.

Mr. King narrowly won re-election in November after a campaign that saw Democrats flip the Republicans’ other two Iowa seats, and saw Mr. King have to fend off accusations that he’d veered too far toward white nationalism.

He defeated Democrat J.D. Scholten, a political newcomer, by just three percentage points (50-47) — his narrowest victory since he captured the seat in 2002.

Fending off Republicans in primaries has never been a challenge for Mr. King, but Mr. Feenstra’s campaign could be different.

Craig Robinson, a GOP operative who runs the Iowa Republican website, said Mr. Feenstra comes from a very conservative part of the district and likely jumped into the race early in an attempt to head off any others.

“He is a legit challenger,” Mr. Robinson said. “He is not a guy that King can paint as a Des Moines-generated liberal, weak candidate or even moderate.”

The King campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, said the state party won’t pick sides in the nomination fight.

“The good people of the 4th District will have the ultimate say,” Mr. Kaufmann said.

Republican leaders in the state — including Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst — have rallied behind Mr. King in previous primary contests, at least in part to curry favor with voters in a district that Republicans have relied on to win statewide races.

Yet Mr. King’s controversies, including endorsing a white nationalist running for mayor of Toronto and meeting with far-right European politicians, took a toll.

The chair of National Republican Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Republicans, even denounced Mr. King’s behavior as “inappropriate” and refused to support his re-election campaign.

Mr. King received nearly 30,000 fewer votes than did Mrs. Reynolds in his political backyard.

Republicans now worry that Mr. King on the ballot in 2020 could dent Mrs. Ernst’s push to win a second term, and sour GOP chances of winning back the two House seats they surrendered.

“He is the problem child,” Mr. Robinson said. “He is kind of like an acting-out teenager.”

Anticipating a primary challenge in 2020, Mr. King announced late last week that this year he plans to hold town hall meetings in all 39 counties in his district.

Robert Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, a conservative Christian group, said it remains to be see whether GOP primary voters are looking for a new direction, but he said it’s going to be a race.

“I would consider this a very, very, real challenge,” Mr. Vander Plaats said

Mrs. Reynolds after the election sent a message to Mr. King to get his act together, with her top adviser, David Kochel, saying the polarizing incumbent had become a “drag on our party.”

Mr. Robinson said whatever happens in 2020, Mr. King’s days are likely numbered.

“I think you can see the end is coming because I think when redistricting hits [in 2021] he is going to be in a world of hurt,” he said, pointing out that the district will likely expand into less friendly territory. “If they don’t get him in this primary challenge, I don’t think he is around in 2022.”

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