Iowa faith leaders are demanding that backers of white nationalist Rep. Steve King pull their financial support of his re-election bid, as his history of racist rhetoric faces heightened scrutiny following a massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue and a wave of pipe bombs mailed to prominent critics of President Donald Trump.
King’s Republican colleagues have long shrugged off his promotion of white supremacist ideology, but the recent attacks have renewed national outrage. Under intense pressure, at least three of his donors — dairy company Land O’Lakes, tech giant Intel, and pet food company Purina — have withdrawn their support.
A new poll by Change Research found that the race between King and his Democratic opponent, J.D. Scholten, has tightened amid the backlash, and there’s now just a single point separating the two. The poll also found that King’s approval rating is sinking, with just 38 percent of respondents saying they view him favorably, and 48 percent viewing him unfavorably. Prognosticators say that if an incumbent’s favorability rating falls below 50 percent, it’s trouble for re-election.
Hours after the release of the poll showing that King may lose, National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Rep. Steve Stivers tweeted a general condemnation of King’s recent comments and behavior.
Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.
— Steve Stivers (@RepSteveStivers) October 30, 2018
Jewish leaders from King’s congressional district, in a letter published in the Des Moines Register on Tuesday, denounced the eight-term incumbent’s record of anti-Semitism and called on his donors to follow the lead of the companies that have left him.
“We are writing from the depths of our grief, in horror at the news of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh,” wrote Alan Steckman from Adas Israel in Mason City and John Pleasants from the Ames Jewish Congregation. “We feel we must speak out because our Congressional Representative, Steve King, is an enthusiastic crusader for the same types of abhorrent beliefs held by the Pittsburgh shooter.”
After it was revealed that Land O’Lakes contributed $2,500 to King’s campaign, online critics quickly amplified calls for a boycott of the company’s products. Most of King’s other donors, which include Berkshire Hathaway and its subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy Company, AT&T, and the American Bankers Association, have so far remained silent.
“King’s regular meetings with the white supremacist group in Austria founded by an SS officer are not new,” the letter continued. “But the recent discovery, that King used funds from a Holocaust education organization to meet with a notoriously anti-Semitic propaganda site is shocking beyond any previous outrage. King’s latest cynical machinations are intolerable to us as Iowans and as Jews.”
The letter from Jewish leaders was followed by a separate letter from an Iowa interfaith group, which included people of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish faiths. “The Pittsburgh murderer was motivated by anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric,” they wrote in a letter sent to both the Register and The Intercept. “Steve King espouses similar ideas and associates himself with others who share them. He bears some responsibility for inciting the kind of hatred that led to last week’s horrific violence.”
The letter, signed by more than two dozen faith leaders from Ames, Iowa, cited King’s endorsement of a self-proclaimed white nationalist for mayor of Toronto, adding that King has also criticized billionaire philanthropist George Soros as “a target of one of last week’s pipe bombs and frequent focus of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”
“King cannot refute charges of anti-Semitism by claiming to be a supporter of Israel while associating with a racist, xenophobic movement that includes anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers,” they wrote.
A race Republicans initially expected to be effortless is now looking tough. There’s a week left until the election and King is nearly broke, with just $176,000 on hand, while Scholten has heavily out-raised him without taking corporate PAC money. Scholten has already spent $1.4 million, some of which has gone to ads that have run unopposed on air for two weeks.
Scholten has been holding town halls and meetups in each of the overwhelmingly red counties in his district, campaigning on progressive policies like “Medicare for All” and raising the minimum wage, but leading specifically with a critique of the farm economy, as The Intercept previously reported.
King has also lost the longtime support of his hometown newspaper. On Friday, the editorial board of the Sioux City Journal broke from tradition and endorsed Scholten. “Those were not easy words for us to write,” the board wrote of their decision.