Iowa is expected to get a lot of attention during the 2020 election. Between the Iowa caucuses, what should be a hotly contested Senate race, and multiple House races up for grabs, the path to political victory for Republicans and Democrats runs right through the “Hawkeye State.”
While the Senate has garnered the most media attention, every House race in the state appears to be in-play. The first and third districts, held by freshman Democratic Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne, are being heavily targeted by Republicans after they lost the seats in 2018. The right-leaning second district also became a top target for the GOP after longtime Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) announced he would not run for reelection next year. In recent weeks, the state’s fourth district, currently held by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has come onboard for Democrats.
King has come under increased scrutiny throughout 2019, as his inflammatory comments have drawn fire from Republicans and Democrats alike. Earlier this month, Democrat J.D. Scholten, who ran against King in 2018 and only lost by 3 points, announced that he would run again in 2020. As the only Democrat currently running, Scholten is in a prime position to coalesce support around his candidacy while King faces a primary battle against multiple opponents. These factors have given Democrats renewed hope they can sweep the state and capture all of Iowa’s House seats next year.
But how realistic are Democrats chances of taking King’s seat in 2020? We’ve pulled together the information you need to know about the state of play in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District.
AR/Intel Insiders: For a more in depth look at this contest, check out our new IA-04 Race Brief.
Located in the northwest corner of the state and covering Sioux City, the fourth district has traditionally been a Republican stronghold. The Cook Political Report gives the district an R+11 PVI and it has never voted for a Democrat in its currently drawn form. President Trump carried it by over 27 points and King won reelection in 2014 and 2016 by over 22 points.
Despite its ruby-red leaning, Democrats are hopeful that Scholten’s strong performance against King in 2018 may be a recipe for success in 2020. Scholten was able to cut King’s margin of victory from 27 points in 2016 down to 3 points in 2018 – a 24 point swing to Democrats in only two years.
There are currently three Republicans running to challenge King; State Sen. Randy Feenstra, former Irwin Mayor Bret Richards, and former state Rep. Jeremy Taylor. Of the three, Feenstra appears to be in the strongest position to defeat King. In the last two quarters, he has heavily outraised the incumbent congressman and has 18-times more cash on hand.
But King doesn’t appear to be willing to go down without a fight. While his cash on hand numbers paint a dim picture, King has outspent Feenstra in each quarter this year, using nearly all of the money he takes in on his reelection bid.
For all his opposition from national Republicans, King also appears to still have support in his state. Three-quarters of all his itemized contributions this year have come from Iowans and local party officials have continued to stand by him, claiming his comments have been unfairly portrayed by the media. A recent straw poll conducted at the Iowa State Fair also demonstrated King’s support, as 55.51% of those polled would back him, far ahead of Feenstra, who only received 29.86%.
With just under a year until the primary election (scheduled for June 2, 2020), it may be too early to tell if King will prevail, or if Feenstra (or another candidate) might be able to overtake him. One key development to watch will be if any of the Republicans currently running decide to drop out. While King might struggle in a head to head match up, a four-way primary could fracture the vote and give him the edge to win.
King might not be a lock to win the primary, but he might have a better chance than many believe.
Democrats will almost certainly be hoping that King ends up winning the primary, but their general election success will remain in doubt regardless of who wins. While it’s true that Scholten had success last year, will he be able to get across the finish line in 2020? Iowa’s fourth district is in one of the most rural parts of the state, and Democrats have been losing support in those areas over the last several elections. Democrats will also be looking to defend their turf in other parts of the state, which could impact how much outside investment Scholten gets in the fourth district. Perhaps the most important factor will be how the state swings at the presidential level. In 2016, President Trump carried Iowa by nearly 10-points. If he is able to produce similar results there in 2020, it seems unlikely that the Democrats would be able to flip the very conservative fourth district.