Weaver Challenges King in the Big, Conservative 4th District

Oct 31, 2016

Iowa's 4th Congressional District covers 39 counties, from the northwest corner through much of north-central part of the state. It's the largest and most conservative district--38 percent of registered voters are Republicans.

That hasn't deterred Democrat Kim Weaver from launching a campaign to unseat seven-term incumbent Steve King.

In fact, it has attracted the attention of some out-of-state politicians. At an event in Ames, Congressman Eric Swalwell, (D-Calif.) who was born in the district, came through to campaign for Weaver.

"I want a colleague like Kim in Congress," Swalwell says, "because we need more hands toiling away to lift so many students out of student loan debt."

Weaver's made student loan debt a key part of her platform—she has three adult children shouldering college debt.

"So what I would like to do is propose a program," Weaver says. "I'm calling it I-GIVE, generate investment through involvement and engagement."

Weaver says borrowers would dedicate four hours a week to community service. In exchange, interest and payments would be deferred and at the end of a year a portion of the debt would be forgiven.

Community members who need help with chores such as laundry or grocery shopping would be potential beneficiaries of the volunteer time. Weaver says her work as an ombudsman for residents in assisted living or nursing homes helped her come up with the plan.

She's also advocating for industrial hemp to become a viable commercial crop, to help improve the soil and to help farmers break out of the corn-soybean rotation.

A resident of Sheldon, Weaver is a Democrat in a district where just a quarter of voters register with her party. Currently the 4th District is represented by one of the most conservative members of the U.S. House.

"My job is to be the conscience of the constitutional conservatives in Congress," King told a group of supporters at a Republican dinner in Nevada.

He said from his perch far on the right, he can debate the most left-leaning Democrats, such as Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

"When we debate, or when we argue, the people in the middle have a chance to listen to her argument and mine and then they can make up their mind," King says. "It helps us get to a resolution, whether or not either one of us support that resolution."

King says he's spent years under a Democratic president and before that in a Democratic-controlled House, pushing an agenda that hasn't gone far. But he says it's what his constituents want. For that reason, he's declined to debate Weaver.

"Well, I thought it through and I couldn't come up with a single reason to debate," King says. "People know where I stand and they don't ask me where I stand on life or marriage or the constitution or a balanced budget or border security or our national defense. And repealing Obamacare, for example, or Dodd Frank. They know where I stand on all of that. And so there's not anything to be learned there."

Weaver, who competed in speech as an Iowa State University student, has her own ideas about his reluctance to debate.

"I can think of several reasons," she says. "Because maybe I’m articulate, intelligent, have good ideas. He might risk looking like a fool."

Iowa State University political scientist Dave Peterson says the reality of the race is that King doesn't have to campaign.

"He's got name recognition. He won with 65 percent of the vote last time," Peterson says. "He doesn't really need to do much."

In fact, Peterson says it's probably better for King to do little.

"The more attention he draws to the race the more that probably helps his challenger than it helps him," Peterson says. That's because if King were more engaged in the race Weaver's message would get out more. While it can seem that incumbents get a free pass for re-election, Peterson says it's not just the fact of them already being in office. It's how they got there.

"They won last time and they won last time in part because they're a good fit for their district," Peterson says. "King is a really good fit for his district."

Each of Iowa's other three incumbents has debated his challenger at least once.

But voter Charlene Jarboe of rural Fernald is among the King supporters who doesn't need to know anything more about the candidates.

"He's very straight-forward, he's very honest," Jarboe says. "He listens to the people. And really tries to do the best he can."

She says he advocates for her beliefs in Washington. For example, regarding immigration, she doesn't want refugees resettled here.

"Keep the people from coming in, do not bring in the people from Syria," she says. "They haven't been vetted or anything else, or they won't be, probably."

King has come under fire nationally for his remarks about not wanting Syrian refugees and for claiming the superiority of people descended from white Europeans. But while Peterson sees King's re-election as inevitable, that doesn't mean the fourth district will go all-in for Republicans.

"For Steve King, the difference between 65 and 60 [percent of the vote] is trivial," Peterson says. "But when it comes to aggregating up to the statewide vote, the difference between 65 percent in the fourth and 60 percent of the fourth could be pivotal."

In other words, even if Kim Weaver can't get elected in the 4th District, less conservative voters there could influence which way Iowa's six electoral votes go in the presidential race.