Rep. Steve King will leave Congress after this year, ending a nearly two-decade-long career that included numerous inflammatory comments on race and immigration.
The Iowa Republican lost his bid for a 10th term on Tuesday, when GOP voters in his northwest Iowa district awarded state Sen. Randy Feenstra with the nomination after a fierce primary battle with King.
Feenstra led King by 10 points, 46 to 36 percent, with nearly all precincts reporting late Tuesday night. His decisive victory is a boon to leaders in both parties, including Republican leaders who stripped King of his committee assignments last year and had long felt his offensive and racist rhetoric cast a shadow on the party.
GOP heavyweights from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to evangelical leaders and the Iowa political establishment united against King. But they did not hone in on his decades-long penchant for abrasive comments. Steering clear of direct attacks on the congressman, they largely painted him as an ineffective member of Congress, who had no sway in Washington.
“I thank Congressman King for his decades of public service,” Feenstra said in a statement Tuesday night. “As we turn to the general election, I will remain focused on my plans to deliver results for the families, farmers and communities of Iowa.”
Feenstra’s victory will likely boost the GOP’s chances of keeping the seat. Though he holds a district Trump won by nearly 30 points, King barely beat his 2018 Democratic opponent, J.D. Scholten, who is running again.
Iowa was one of nine states holding primaries in the biggest election night since the coronavirus gripped the nation. Voters in the state backed Democrat Theresa Greenfield to take on Republican Sen. Joni Ernst this fall in a race that could be critical to which party controls the Senate next year. And across the country voters are choosing nominees in a dozen House battlegrounds in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Montana.
The fate of King, an opponent of immigration and multiculturalism who has supported white nationalist candidates abroad, was sealed amid massive social protests in the wake of the killing of an unarmed black man by a Minneapolis police officer last week.
A remark he made to The New York Times in 2019, questioning when white supremacy and white nationalism had become negative terms, launched a maelstrom that got him booted off congressional committees. King’s detractors claimed he is not able to effectively advocate for northwest Iowa. As polls tightened in the final weeks between King and Feenstra, outside groups dumped money into the race in a last-ditch effort to oust the incumbent.
King’s defeat could have ramifications elsewhere in Iowa, including in the state’s Senate race.
Democrats decided on their nominee to take on Ernst, the first-term senator who captured the seat six years ago running as an outsider, famous for an ad in which she said she would make Washington “squeal.”
Greenfield, who had backing from national Democrats and local labor organizations, won relatively easily, holding a comfortable double digit margin and clearing the 35 percent threshold to avoid the race going to a party convention. Greenfield had a vast financial edge, having outraised all of her competitors, and had a much stronger campaign apparatus behind her. She also benefited from substantial spending on her behalf by outside groups, which has rankled some of her opponents.
Mike Franken, a retired, three-star Navy admiral, was her closest competitor but fell well short despite gaining some momentum down the stretch from an endorsement by the Des Moines Register.
Democrats have millions of dollars in TV ads booked for the fall, hoping Iowa could be a competitive state that gives them a clearer shot at regaining the Senate majority.
Elsewhere on the Senate map, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and GOP Sen. Steve Daines both easily won their respective nominations Tuesday as they prepare to square off in the Montana Senate race. And Republicans nominated Mark Ronchetti, a local TV weatherman, to take on Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who was unopposed in New Mexico’s Democratic Senate primary.
The race for Lujan’s open congressional seat in northern New Mexico featured a familiar name: CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked during the George W. Bush administration. But Plame lost to attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez, who had the support of outside groups like EMILY’s List.
Republicans were choosing nominees in several Democratic-held districts that President Donald Trump won. Yvette Herrell, a former state legislator who lost to now-freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico last cycle, won a shot at a rematch. In an open, southeast Iowa district, Marianette Miller-Meeks, a Republican who lost three times to retiring incumbent Rep. Dave Loebsack, won the nomination for a fourth time, facing Democratic state Sen. Rita Hart.
Meanwhile, Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) is headed for a rematch with former Rep. David Young (R-Iowa), who easily won the primary Tuesday night. And in a district in the northeast region of the state, state Rep. Ashley Hinson secured the GOP nomination to take on Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa).
The contests come amid the backdrop of the pandemic and massive civil unrest, which is posing challenges for election officials across the country. Several cities that are holding elections have curfews in place and an increased police presence, which voting rights activists worry could depress turnout.
Tuesday’s primaries were also a major test for the vote-by-mail infrastructure across the country. Vote-counting was slow in Pennsylvania, a warning sign ahead of November that results in the crucial battleground state could drag on for hours, if not days. As of 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, fewer than 80 percent of precincts had reported results.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order on Monday extending the deadline for when absentee ballots can be received in six counties until June 9, as long as they’re postmarked by this Tuesday.
“The volume of applications in the six counties caused by the COVID-19 crisis combined with the recent civil disturbance make it necessary to extend the deadline for the counties to receive completed civilian absentee and mail-in ballots,” an announcement from the governor’s office read.
In the District of Columbia, voters reported not receiving absentee ballots they requested, and a city that usually has over 100 polling places saw it condensed to 20 voting centers. Voters told POLITICO at one voting center that they waited to cast their ballots, as election officials limited the amount of people who could vote at once due to social distancing guidelines.