DES MOINES, Iowa — Bob Vander Plaats, President and CEO of The Family Leader and longtime social conservative leader, is appearing in a new ad that backs a Republican challenger, instead of nine-term U.S. Representative Steve King.
Vander Plaats and King have known each other for years and campaigned together in Iowa on behalf of Texas Senator Ted Cruz before the 2016 Republican caucuses.
“Whatever you think of Steve King, it’s clear that he’s no longer effective,” Vander Plaats says in the new ad paid for by the group, Priorities for Iowa.
King, a Republican from Kiron, is currently the state’s longest-serving member in the U.S. House of Representatives, but he faces four primary challengers in the June 2nd election after a series of controversial statements regarding race and immigrants. In 2019, party leadership stripped him of all his committee assignments. King has maintained that his comments were taken out of context and that he opposes white supremacist views.
He claimed that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told him that he would get his committee assignments restored. “I have Kevin McCarthy’s word that that will be my time for exoneration,” King said at a forum on May 11th, according to the Sioux City Journal.
But last Friday, McCarthy said that was not true. “Congressman King’s comments cannot be exonerated and I never said that,” McCarthy said, according to the Washington Post.
Vander Plaats didn’t publicly endorse King’s primary challengers in 2016 or 2018. But for this 2020 primary, he has now gone public to announce his support for State Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, instead of King.
“Randy Feenstra is a pro-life, pro-family Republican who delivers,” Vander Plaats said in the ad.
Vander Plaats also questioned what King could accomplish for conservatives. “He can’t deliver for President Trump and he can’t advance our conservative values,” Vander Plaats said.
Two of the groups have ties to Republican strategists who have been involved in Iowa politics for decades.
Priorities for Iowa is run by Ryan Koopmans, former legal counsel and chief of staff to Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. Sara Craig founded the group. She is Reynolds’ current chief of staff.
Christopher Rants, former speaker of the house from Sioux City, heads Iowa Four PAC and lives in King’s district.
The party’s top leaders–Reynolds, Senator Joni Ernst and Senator Chuck Grassley– have all declined to endorse King in the 2020 primary race, although they haven’t publicly endorsed any of King’s opponents.
Terry Branstad, the state’s former governor and current U.S. Ambassador to China, has donated to Feenstra.
King, a former state senator, was first elected to Congress in 2002. Throughout his career, he frequently defeated Democratic opponents by more than 20 points in the heavily Republican areas of the state that he represented. But in 2018, King defeated Democratic political newcomer, former professional baseball player J.D. Scholten, by three points.
On Wednesday, King’s campaign sent out an online column appearing in the American Spectator that featured an endorsement from former President George H.W. Bush’s speechwriter, Joseph Dugggan. Duggan wrote that King, “…is one of the rare members of Congress who is in accord with the voters who nominated Donald Trump in 2016.”
President Trump has not endorsed a candidate in the 2020 4th District primary.