IA-04: GOP State Senator Rick Bertrand will challenge Steve King

Bret Hayworth had the scoop this morning for the Sioux City Journal, and State Senator Rick Bertrand told the rest of the world at a press conference this afternoon:

“I’m Rick Bertrand, I’m real, and I’m running!” Bertrand said in announcing his candidacy [in the fourth Congressional district]. He added, “I am a viable and credible candidate, and will pose the greatest challenge Mr. King has faced in 14 years.”

Bertrand revealed last month that he was considering a primary challenge to seven-term Representative Steve King. I had become convinced he wouldn’t run, having heard no buzz about Bertrand making the rounds at GOP county conventions this past weekend, and having seen no trash talk about King on Nick Ryan’s Twitter feed since February 23. When I heard Bertrand had called a press conference for today (one day before the filing deadline for the primary), I assumed he was stringing the media along the way Bob Vander Plaats did regarding the U.S. Senate race in 2014.

But Bertrand hit the road these past few weeks, collecting more than 3,000 signatures from around the district, far exceeding the 1,866 he needs on nominating petitions to qualify for the ballot. His pitch is simple: whereas King has become a nationally known lightning rod because of his comments on immigration policy and health care reform, Bertrand will focus on policies to grow the economy in his home district. “I am not going in there to be a national figure. I am going to be likable and effective,” he told Hayworth.

Bertrand said King hasn’t nabbed important committee posts of power to help Iowans improve their lives through economic growth. He contends King has been in office too long and “is polarizing.”

“I like Steve but, you know what, it is time … You become institutionalized after 14 years,” Bertrand said.

After today’s formal announcement, Bertrand tweeted, “I am not asking you to vote against a man… I am asking you to vote FOR a plan.”

King’s offensive comments about immigrants cost him a subcommittee chairmanship in 2011. This year, House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte put King in charge of a new Task Force on Executive Overreach “to examine the historic breakdown of the separation of powers and checks and balances that has led to the unprecedented increase in presidential power and executive overreach.” That task force held its first hearing earlier this month; King’s opening statement is on YouTube. But such hearings won’t deliver anything concrete to constituents in northwest Iowa.

Given King’s status as a hero to many Iowa conservatives, Bertrand must be considered an extreme long-shot to win the nomination. That said, King angered many Republicans and allies of the ethanol industry by endorsing Senator Ted Cruz before the Iowa caucuses. Nor does King have the large campaign war chest one would expect from an entrenched incumbent.

Nick Ryan tweeted today that he was “very pleased” to learn of Bertrand’s Congressional campaign: “He has my vote.” While Ryan’s vote counts the same as anyone else’s, no other Iowan could raise as much money in a hurry to fund direct mail and attack ads against a political opponent. Whether Ryan will fully commit to the IA-04 primary race remains to be seen. The 501(c)4 group American Future Fund (which he has long led) is currently trying to stop Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination.

The winner of the GOP primary will be strongly favored against Democratic candidate Kim Weaver. The 39 counties in IA-04 contain 123,430 active registered Democrats, 183,846 Republicans, and 165,580 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

If voters send a Republican back to Congress to represent IA-04 next year, I’d much rather have it be Bertrand than King. Not only is Bertrand unlikely to disparage whole groups of people, his departure from the state legislature would open up an Iowa Senate seat Democrats have a chance of winning.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. John Deeth observed that Bertrand’s candidacy could indirectly hurt Patty Judge in the Democratic race for U.S. Senate, as many no-party voters and some Democrats in IA-04 may choose to vote against King in the GOP primary.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that Ryan’s track record in Iowa Republican primaries is mixed. He supported Terry Branstad during the 2010 gubernatorial primary and ran the super-PAC for Rick Santorum before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. But his candidate in the 2010 third Congressional district primary (Jim Gibbons) lost badly to Brad Zaun. Ryan’s outside spending on behalf of Annette Sweeney didn’t stop her from losing to State Representative Pat Grassley (the senator’s grandson) in the 2012 primary to represent Iowa House district 50. Ryan was involved with Mark Jacobs’ big-spending, low-performing campaign for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2014 and before this year’s Iowa caucuses ran the super-PAC for Mike Huckabee, which spent more than half a million dollars to little avail.

SECOND UPDATE: Hayworth reported for the Sioux City Journal on Thursday evening,

In a statement late Thursday, King refrained from mentioning Bertrand’s name, but referred to him as one of several potential candidates he said were “asked to challenge me in a primary by a couple of wealthy and petulant establishment Republicans who think they should own a Congressman.”

“In every case but one, the answer was a resounding ‘No,'” King said in the statement. “I’ve now been informed an offer was accepted.

“The others who received the call rejected substantial offers made to them. What was the offer my opponent accepted? He needs to answer this question to the citizens of the 4th congressional district.”

Bertrand denied the claim, telling Hayworth, “They are gonna frame this campaign that somehow I’ve been seduced into this race, and that this is Des Moines versus Steve King, which is the farthest from the truth.” He added later,

“It’s not saying that the national issues aren’t important, as a national figure. But the problem I have right now is, Steve King is focused on Afghanistan, I am focused on Ames,” Bertrand said.

Meanwhile, the Iowa branch of the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity immediately signaled that they will attack Bertrand for his vote last year to raise Iowa’s gasoline tax. King has an 89 percent scorecard with Americans for Prosperity, the group’s regional director Mark Lucas pointed out on Twitter.

On March 18, Americans for Prosperity – Iowa announced plans to fund phone banking, door knocking, and direct mail to “hold State Sen. Rick Bertrand accountable for his vote in favor of a gas tax increase last year.”

Dozens of statehouse Republicans supported the tax hike to fund road work, and Governor Terry Branstad was eager to sign the measure into law.

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  • In the June 7th Primary

    I would be tempted to change my registration to R and vote for Bertrand, but I want to vote for Rob Hogg in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

  • King needs to go.

    I remember Steve King championing Hispaniphobic/xenophobic English-only bills back in the 90s when he was in the Iowa legislature. I am happy to read that that he has some competition. He is an embarrassment to the state of Iowa.