AMES, Iowa -- Rep. Steve King is among the most conservative members of Congress, and he represents a district so red that Donald Trump won it by 27 percentage points in 2016. Yet the nine-term congressman is at risk of losing his seat -- at the hands of his own party.
A broad spectrum of Iowa and national Republicans -- from moderate establishment types to conservative evangelical leaders -- are leading an expensive effort to oust the controversial congressman. On Tuesday, he faces off with well-financed GOP state legislator Randy Feenstra and other rivals in a primary that many Iowa strategists say is too close to call.
"I think Steve King is in trouble, and it's been probably one of the most fascinating things to watch," said Craig Robinson, a former state GOP official who founded the Iowa Republican website. "In my time in politics, I've never seen anything quite like it."
King is arguing that he is being chased from office by "the swamp" because he has never wavered in his conservative principles about issues such as border control and abortion.
"You've seen attack ads and mailers paid for by billionaire coastal RINO-NeverTrumper, globalist, neocon elites," King wrote in an editorial in the Sioux City Journal, urging voters in Iowa's 4th Congressional District to remain with him. "... I've said 'no' to them for years. I know their names and their agenda. I answer only to 4th District voters."
King, 71, has a long history of making incendiary statements about race, immigration, rape and other matters, and for having associations with far-right European leaders.
In 2013, when speaking about immigrants, King said, "For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds -- and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
Four years later, as he tweeted in support of nationalist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, King wrote, "Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."
In 2018, he called Mexican immigrants "dirt" during a campaign event.
For more than a decade, these remarks and these relationships drew rebukes but did not appear to matter to many of Iowa's GOP leaders and voters, though they enraged Democrats.