Democrats in Western Iowa are used to voting against Steve King. They’ve done it year in and year out, always to no avail. It’s become a bit of a ritual: each campaign cycle a Democrat announces his or her candidacy and all the activists get excited that maybe this year will be the one that the despised King is finally sent packing. It never works. And then those Democrats have to go back to explaining to their friends how they live in Steve King country.
But 2016 could be different. Because this year King faces something a little different: a primary from a credible Republican challenger.
State Senator Rick Bertrand of Sioux City declared his underdog campaign against King last month, claiming he felt the district needed a new voice that wasn’t polarizing. Bertrand says King’s Ted Cruz endorsement and ensuing ethanol spat during the Iowa Caucus didn’t influence his decision, but there’s no doubt it will help his campaign.
Could King really be defeated in a Republican face-off? He’s beloved by the right-wing activists that turn out in primaries. Cruz won the 4th District despite the endorsement backlash and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, a key ethanol ally, endorsed King this weekend.
But here’s the other thing to remember: there’s no other major statewide primaries to turn out Republican voters. In a high turnout primary, like the 2010 gubernatorial, most rank-and-file conservatives would obviously vote for King over some state senator they’ve never heard of. Those turning out in the 4th District this year will be at the polls solely for Bertrand or King.
Plus King has always been a weak fundraiser and Bertrand now has Bruce Rastetter, the top Iowa GOP money-man and ethanol leader, in his corner. And much of the 4th District is still relatively new to King, who picked up Mason City, Ames and many more-moderate counties in redistricting. Bertrand’s home base of Sioux City, the largest city in the district and full of moderate business Republicans, should come in strong for him.
Still, it seems like Bertrand will need a little something more to pull off the herculean task of defeating the longtime incumbent. Like an extra bloc of voters people wouldn’t expect. Yes, I’m talking about Democrats.
If Democrats really want to finally defeat Steve King, their best option in years is to register as a Republican and vote against him in the Republican primary on June 7th. In a low turnout election like this, an extra base of support could be the deciding factor in the primary.
Now Bertrand himself is much more conservative than he likes to let on for his Democratic-leaning senate district, though he did vote for the gas tax and a minimum wage increase. But the big reason many Democrats, independents and business Republicans would prefer to see Bertrand succeed is because they’re simply tired of King’s cable news antics. Even if Bertrand voted on many of the same key issues as King does, most would still see it as a vast improvement if one of Iowa’s Congressmen wasn’t talking about “cantaloup calves” and other nonsense.
Some Democrats may overthink the situation and wager that Bertrand’s more moderate persona would prove an even tougher opponent than King for Democratic nominee Kim Weaver to beat. But King has easily defeated in the last two cycles a popular former first lady in Christie Vilsack and an Iraq War veteran with a well-funded campaign in Jim Mowrer. Maybe it’s time to try something different.
Yes, there’s a serious Senate primary for Democrats now with Patty Judge and Rob Hogg battling it out for the chance to take on Chuck Grassley, as are Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause. If you really care about that race, perhaps wait until you see some sort of polling on it to make your decision. If Judge or Hogg is solidly in command, maybe taking a Republican ballot in the primary isn’t that bad.
There will be many King supporters who will bemoan such tactics as an attempt by Democrats to infiltrate their primary and choose their nominee for them. To them I say: duh, that’s the point. We’re so sick and tired of King making a mockery of Iowa’s good name that we’re looking at whatever options we can get to finally rid ourselves of this embarrassment.
So, fellow Democrats in the 4th District: do the unthinkable. Register as a Republican. Vote in their primary. It’ll be fun. Maybe. Eh, probably not. But doing so may be Iowa’s best chance to defeat Steve King and repair Iowa’s reputation on the national stage.
And hey, if it doesn’t work out and King still wins his primary, think of it this way: at least you got to vote against Steve King twice in one year.
by Pat Rynard