Congress

Iowa governor won’t support Rep. Steve King over primary challenger

Gov. Kim Reynolds criticized King’s white nationalist postings only after the midterm election was over

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King served as one of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ campaign co-chairmen last year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds indicated Wednesday she won’t support Republican Rep. Steve King over his primary challenger in 2020.

The Republican governor’s rebuke of the congressman comes on the heels of an announcement by Republican state Sen. Randy Feenstra that he will run against King for his 4th District seat.

“I’ll stay out of the primary, but I think it’s a reflection of the last election,” Reynolds said in an interview with WHO. “The last election was a wakeup call for it to be that close. That indicates that it does open the door for other individuals to take a look at that.”

“That was an indication that people weren’t happy,” Reynolds continued.

Behind the scenes, Reynolds and Feenstra share a link: Feenstra’s campaign media contact, Matt Leopold, was Reynolds’ political director during her 2018 campaign.

King drew renewed criticism late last year over racist remarks and posts on social media linked to white nationalists. The National Republican Congressional Committee declined to support him even as his race tightened.

King ended up narrowly winning re-election by 3 points, defeating Democratic lawyer JD Scholten in the solidly Republican district in northwest Iowa. President Donald Trump carried the seat by 27 points in 2016, and Republicans enjoy an advantage of roughly 70,000 more registered voters in the district.

Reynolds won her election by roughly the same narrow margin, a fact that King’s office has used to deflect from prior criticism of him by the  governor.

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But even as Reynolds has distanced herself from King, their public statements have been cordial.

In the interview Wednesday, Reynolds described King as “a friend.”

“Congressman King loves Gov. Reynolds and notes that they are birds of a feather because they won by similar margins,” King spokesman John Kennedy told the Des Moines Register in November.

And Reynolds stood by King on the campaign trail last year despite pressure from her Democratic opponent to condemn him.

The candidates shared a stage at a campaign rally on the eve of Election Day. And King remained an honorary co-chairman of her campaign even as his corporate donors and the National Republican Congressional Committee peeled away from him.

Reynolds issued her first critical words for King, an ally of President Donald Trump, only after the midterm elections were over.

“I think that Steve King needs to make a decision if he wants to represent the people and the values of the 4th District or do something else, and I think he needs to take a look at that,” the Republican governor said.

Challenger Feenstra referred to the outrage provoked by King’s sympathies to white nationalists in his campaign announcement.

“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 in a news release.

The congressman’s campaign manager, his son Jeff King, countered in a statement Wednesday that “misguided political opportunism, fueled by establishment puppeteers, has revealed that Mr. Feenstra is easily swayed by the lies of the Left.”

Asked if Scholten was planning to once again challenge King, the Democrat’s former campaign manager, Irene Lin, said in an email that Scholten was “considering all his options.”

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report

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