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Political Mercury

King strenghtens his northwest Iowa lock on power

11/19/2014

Photo by Douglas Burns. In western Iowa, the more U.S. Rep. Steve King speaks, the more he connects.

Photo by Douglas Burns.
In western Iowa, the more U.S. Rep. Steve King speaks, the more he connects.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, captured 37 of the 39 counties the 4th congressional district to easily win re-election to a seventh term. He cleared the 80-percent-vote threshold in some of his more reliable reaches.

His opponent, Boone Democrat Jim Mowrer, an Iraq War veteran, lost his home county to King. Mowrer won only Story County, home to Ames and Iowa State University, and Cerro Gordo County, which includes Mason City.

Political observers can question elements of Mowrer’s strategy, but he ran a gaffe-free campaign, no major defining mistakes, no loose words or characterizations or off-key remarks that plagued other candidates.

Still, King whacked Mowrer on Election Day.

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District-wide, King won 62 percent to 38 percent. In the decidedly Republican district, King ran up big margins in the northwest corner of the state, garnering 86 percent of the vote in Sioux County and 84 percent in Lyon County, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. He received 70 percent of the vote in Sac County.

Weeks before the election, in an interview with Political Mercury, King suggested that if he ever made it to heaven, he doubted seriously whether there would be any homosexuals there.

King’s sixth term also included some of his more incendiary language on undocumented immigrants. King famously said he didn’t agree with the assessment that many Hispanic youths who aren’t legal U.S. citizens are also high-achieving. “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King said.

He delighted in double-downing on the remarks for months.

But in western Iowa, the more King speaks, the more he connects.

“The best thing we can do is give you the objective truth all the time,” King said in a victory speech from Sioux City.

King doesn’t speak in careful, hedged words, and in many ways, he is the anti-Joni Ernst. Cocoon King with handlers and keep him from the media? He’d suffocate. King is so confident of his worldview that he seeks out critical journalists and columnists, seems to revel (and always excel) in the give-and-take, and actually gives us more access, because he knows the juxtaposition of our printed outrage with his provocations and postulations is a winning formula for him (and us, too, when measured some ways).

First elected in 2002, after winning a special convention in Denison to earn the Republican nomination that year, King is now the most-tenured of the Iowa congressional delegation.

Mowrer, like former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, who challenged King in 2012, sought to portray the six-term incumbent from Kiron as an out-of-touch radical.

Mowrer and Vilsack were both strong candidates. In fact, Mowrer may very well have been the best Democratic candidate running in 2014 in Iowa for a top-tier office. (Secretary of State contender Brad Anderson, I think, had the best campaign, and the numbers revealed that, in a narrow loss to Paul Pate).

Running another Democrat with real political potential against King makes little sense. Campaigns require about two years of nearly ceaseless fundraising, a single-mindedness of purpose that’s draining for even the most motivated.

And to what end when you read the election results in the 4th for King?

In a presidential election year, it would be interesting to see Christie Vilsack run against David Young in the 3rd District, which stretches from Des Moines to Council Bluffs.

Mowrer wouldn’t have to move too far south to run in the 3rd, either. And really, who among us, after watching Tom Latham change his address a few times, would bark at Mowrer for hanging a shingle out in Bayard instead of Boone? What small Iowa town wouldn’t be delighted to welcome a man like Mowrer? Gov. Terry Branstad’s Home Base Iowa is outfitted to do just that for military veterans.

As for King, the only angle that’s not been tried with him as an incumbent is a primary challenge, one in which an attempt could be made to build a coalition between moderate-conservative, Rotary Club Republicans who believe much of what King says, but hold their noses at his tactics (and these Republicans do still exist in much of western Iowa) and Democrats who could jump parties for a primary.

Fred Grandy, Doug Gross, are you listening? CV       

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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