When was the last time an Iowa lawmaker voluntarily gave up a powerful committee chairmanship? State Senator Randy Feenstra did it this week.
Feenstra has led the Senate Ways and Means Committee since Republicans gained the majority in the upper chamber after the 2016 election. He announced on June 12 that he’s stepping away from that role, the Sioux City Journal’s Bret Hayworth reported. He said he will remain involved in shaping tax policy during the 2020 legislative session but plans to focus on his campaign for the GOP nomination in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district.
I’ve questioned Feenstra’s ability to defeat King and even speculated he may bail on the IA-04 race early next year if he’s not getting traction. (GOP State Representative Walt Rogers ended his own Congressional campaign in early 2014 so that he could seek re-election to the Iowa House.)
Giving up the top slot on Ways and Means sends a strong signal that Feenstra is committed to defeating nine-term incumbent Steve King in next year’s GOP primary. He will not be tied up in Des Moines next spring, when more voters begin paying attention.
Feenstra doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to introduce himself to Republicans outside the counties he currently represents, though. Since the legislature adjourned for the year more than six weeks ago, his Facebook and Twitter feeds show few signs of traditional campaign activities like town halls or meet and greets open to the public.
Meanwhile, King continues to hold town hall meetings funded through his Congressional office, most recently in Webster and Woodbury counties on May 28. He has now held public events in sixteen of the 39 IA-04 counties this year.
Perhaps Feenstra has focused on connecting with stakeholders and donors. Of the three Republicans who have said they will challenge King next year, Feenstra has the most establishment support by far. State Representative Megan Jones and Dan Huseman and State Senator Annette Sweeney have publicly endorsed his candidacy in recent weeks. Former Governor Terry Branstad, four sitting state senators, and many other big names in Iowa Republican circles donated to Feenstra’s campaign during the first quarter.
King requested but was not given a seat on Air Force One to fly with President Donald Trump to Iowa on June 11, Jeff Zeleny and Jennifer Jacobs reported. The White House didn’t include King on a list of prominent Iowa Republicans who attended a fundraiser with the president in West Des Moines, and Trump didn’t name-check King during the event. After attending the fundraiser, Feenstra tweeted,
Incredible night with @realdonaldtrump in Iowa tonight. He deserves effective conservative leaders in Congress who will help him Make America Great Again. Keep up the great work, Mr. President. #ia04
No Democrat has announced plans to run for Congress in IA-04. King’s 2018 opponent, J.D. Scholten, has said he is likely to run for something next year but has not clarified whether he will try again in the fourth district or challenge U.S. Senator Joni Ernst.
P.S.–State Senator Jake Chapman, who recently ruled out running for Congress in the third district, will chair the Iowa Senate Ways and Means Committee next year. State Senator Dan Dawson, who is facing a tough re-election bid in Senate district 8, will move into Chapman’s former spot as head of the Commerce Committee. State Senator Jim Carlin will lead the Veterans Affairs Committee, previously chaired by Dawson.
UPDATE: King’s office announced on June 13 that he will hold a town hall meeting at the Community Center in Alton (Sioux County) on June 15, starting at 9:00 am. That will be the incumbent’s seventeenth town hall this year. In addition to being the reddest county in Iowa, Sioux County is part of Feenstra’s state Senate district. King already held town halls in the other three counties Feenstra represents (O’Brien, Cherokee, and Plymouth).
Governor Kim Reynolds received 85.9 percent of the vote in Sioux County in 2018, while King received 73.3 percent. He underperformed the governor in all 39 counties, as you can see on this interactive map by clicking on any county.
King above 70% of vote
King between 60% and 70%
King between 50% and 60%
King won with less than 50%
Scholten won with less than 50%
Scholten between 50% and 60%
Scholten above 60%
I’ve updated the table I created for this post in April. Each county’s line contains the 2018 vote numbers for Congress and governor, just you can find on the map. I listed the seventeen counties where King has held or scheduled town halls at the top, in chronological order by date of the meeting. After the line break, other counties are in descending order from most to least ballots cast in last year’s general election.
|Votes for Congress and governor in IA-04 counties, 2018|
|County||King votes||Scholten votes||Reynolds votes||Hubbell votes|