Controversial longtime Republican Congressman Steve King lost his primary bid for re-election earlier this week after a history of racist comments that are widely believed to have cost him his place on the ticket. While King will be replaced with State Sen. Randy Feenstra, Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten is for the second time looking to flip King’s 4th Congressional District blue.
Scholten is a former professional baseball player in Canada and the United States, who ran for King’s seat in 2018, but lost in a tight race. On his campaign website, Scholten boasts of visiting every one of his district’s 39 counties in the 2018 campaign and coming within three points of King — who he accused of being absent in the community.
“Not-Steve King is not enough,” though, Scholten proclaimed on Twitter, and he told the New York Times this week he has spent more time sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots this month than in his own bed. He has attacked Feenstra for his silence on the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, which has led to historic protests nationwide.
“To me, the absence of all five of the Republicans even addressing the George Floyd death or any of these protests or anything like that, I feel that’s a huge issue. I think that’s the type of people we don’t need to go to Congress,” Scholten told the Times.
Here are five things you need to know about J.D. Scholten and his plan to flip Iowa’s 4th blue.
1. He Played Baseball In College, Then Professionally, Then Became A Paralegal Before Deciding It Was Time To Take On Steve King.
Scholten was born in Ames, Iowa, in 1980. He grew up in Sioux City, where he learned to play baseball, then he played at the college level at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, according to his website. He told the Nation that he pitched professionally in seven different countries, before starting work as a paralegal in Seattle, Washington.
He wasn’t interested in politics until 2016 when he visited home for Thanksgiving and attended a Women’s March, and was advised by his grandmother that he needed to return for good and “take care of the farm,” the Nation reported.
He came within spitting distance of beating King in 2018, as the nine-term incumbent’s history of racist remarks and promotion of white supremacist causes and literature appeared to be affecting his electability.
Scholten takes credit for King’s primary loss to Feenstra, his campaign manager told the Des Moines Register, claiming he started the work of exposing King’s bigoted views.
2. He Is Out With A Campaign Ad Narrated By Kevin Costner
Last August, Scholten debuted an ad depicting him as a true product of Iowa’s land and culture, narrated by Oscar-winning actor and star of Yellowstone Kevin Costner. The tone and cinematography of the ad could almost be mistaken as a trailer for a new film staring Costner, in the vein of his 1989 blockbuster drama Field of Dreams.
“It is here. Among the rolling hills, along the endless road, in the wind,” Costner solemnly intones, going on to note Iowans’ “sense of who we are,” and virtues that, he says, Scholten embodies.
The one-minute, 30-second spot was trimmed to about one minute and re-launched around King’s primary. It was produced by the WIN. Company, which has also created ads for New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker during his run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
“Our partnership with J.D. was organic and hinged on the fact that he’s not running against Steve King … he’s running for the people of Iowa,” WIN’s Rania Batrice told Muse by Clio. “He’s running to serve the community that has been abandoned by someone who continues to spew racism, sexism and xenophobia to push forward his own selfish, hateful agenda.”
Batrice said that Costner agreed to narrate the spot because he understood the “urgency of the moment” … and Scholten’s two favorite movies are Field of Dreams and Bull Durham.
3. He Doesn’t Believe Randy Feenstra Would Be Much Better For Iowa Than Steve King.
“There’s not a dime that Randy Feenstra won’t take from special interests and corporate donors like Ag corporations and hedge fund billionaires,” Scholten told the Des Moines Register. “Iowa’s 4th District deserves real representation and accountability from someone who puts people — not corporations and the 1 percent — first.”
Beyond claiming that Feenstra is beholden to corporate interests, Scholten has called his general election opponent out for his alleged silence on King’s extreme rhetoric.
“The people of the Fourth District are sick of divisive politics,” Scholten told the New York Times. “It’s not enough just not being Steve King. We need to have something for this district and the ability to bring people together. And that’s what we plan to do.”
In a statement following his primary victory, Feenstra thanked King for his service, but made no mention of the incumbent’s history of racist statements, even as GOP National Committee Spokeswoman Ronna McDaniel said that King’s “white supremacist rhetoric is totally inconsistent with the Republican Party,” CNN reported.
4. Scholten Focuses On How National Problems Present Unique Challenges To Iowa’s Economy.
Scholten has directed attention at rural hospitals floundering during the coronavirus epidemic while larger hospital chains receive emergency funds from the federal government.
The themes of rural integrity and hard work featured prominently in his Costner-narrated ad also form the crux of Scholten’s platform. He told the Carroll Times Herald that Iowan farmers are facing shrinking markets and the same healthcare challenges as the rest of the country.
“I believe in the resilience and problem-solving of Iowans,” Scholten said. “Iowans don’t need to be saved; their power needs to be unleashed. That’s why I’m fighting to ensure that Iowans have a seat at the table and the ability to be the leaders they already are — in everything from resilient agriculture to technology and climate change.”
He has also indicated on Twitter that defeating King and incumbents with similar views would not be a significant enough step forward for race relations. He has also highlighted the disproportionate effect of coronavirus on minority communities and praised the protests responding to the death of George Floyd and police-on-minority violence nationwide.
5. Scholten Faces A Steep Uphill Battle Against Feenstra, However.
Roll Call, the D.C. Congressional paper, warned this week that Feenstra’s defeat of King didn’t bode well for Scholten’s campaign. They shifted their forecast for the 4th District from “tilt Republican” to “solid Republican,” noting that King’s personal issues had made the seat vulnerable for the right Democrat, but with the more moderate Feenstra’s nomination, the GOP would have an easier time holding onto the seat.
“King’s loss is also a win for the GOP baseball team because it likely keeps Scholten off the field for the annual congressional game,” elections analyst Nathan Gonzalez wrote, riffing on Scholten’s sports background.
Scholten told the New York Times that his strategy against Feenstra would remain the same as it was against King, and said his campaign plans to “work our tails off.”
“There’s not enough people fighting for something who are running for office,” he said. “The people of the Fourth District are sick of divisive politics.”
In 2016, Iowans went for Republican Donald Trump 51.8 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 42.2 percent, according to Politico.
Scholten’s campaign had not responded to Heavy’s request for comment as of Thursday afternoon.