SIOUX CITY, IOWA — Danielle Postma and Nicole Baart have a fair amount in common. Both are mothers-of-four and natives of Iowa’s northwestern 4th District. Both have been card-carrying members of the Republican party for years, both are anti-abortion. But most importantly, both are sick to death of their representative, Steve King, and his continually vile rhetoric.
“The things he was saying just really took me aback,” Baart told ThinkProgress. “This was not how a professional acts and responds, you’re a representative of your entire district whether Republican or Democrat… he’s so contentious and hateful and the things that he posts just appall me.”
“I remember voting for [King] the first time and being really excited about him because he was just such a regular guy,” Postma said. “2016 was the first time I didn’t vote for him. It was an accumulation, the ‘other people’s babies’ comment was the hardest for me to take because I have friends and family who have beautiful wonderful adopted children and I think that’s a horrible message to send.”
Postma was referring to a retweet King posted in March 2017 from Voice of Europe, a far-right site that posts racist, anti-immigrant content. Along with the quoted tweet, King added his support for Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, writing, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
As Politico noted at the time, the tweet earned King the support of former KKK leader, David Duke, who tweeted, “GOD BLESS STEVE KING!!!”
Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies. https://t.co/4nxLipafWO
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) March 12, 2017
King has been the 4th District’s representative for the past 16 years, winning his last seven re-elections by an average of 23 points. He’s also vehemently anti-abortion, which has helped him maintain power in a district with a strong evangelical demographic.
The district has supported similarly conservative candidates at the national level as well: in 2016, Donald Trump won the region by a landslide. All told, extreme conservatives have traditionally enjoyed a comfortable degree of certainty each election cycle.
That may be about to change. With King up for re-election in November, both Democrats and Republicans have begun voicing their frustrations — both over the fact that King has been largely missing in action when it comes to visiting the district or carrying concerns back to Washington, and with his racist and xenophobic rhetoric.
Baart said she previously voted for King in part over his anti-abortion stances and “traditional” family values. “I didn’t really think, I voted straight ticket Republican,” she said. “That’s what I was told to do and that’s what I was told a good Christian did.”
This time around, though, Baart plans to cast her vote against the sitting congressman, even if others in her religious community won’t do the same.
“[Evangelicals] don’t want their traditional values of two kids and a white picket fence and a dog challenged,” she said. “The means justify the ends in their minds as long as we’re going to elect somebody who’s going to vote against LGBT rights and is pro-life.”
Baart’s frustration with King has subsequently led her to support his Democratic rival, J.D. Scholten, who is pitching an under-dog bid to usurp King as the 4th District’s representative in Washington. She even wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper about her disappointment with King, to help others understand.
“I wrote the letter and put it in the paper and everyone I talked to said I was so brave,” she said. “What, I’m not allowed to have a different political opinion? Getting the Republicans around here to believe that you can love Jesus and be a Democrat, I think that’s a really hard pill for them to swallow. I think for so long they’ve believed that being Republican is synonymous with being Christian.”
The accumulated effect of King’s rhetoric also convinced Postma to cross the aisle and start volunteering for the Scholten campaign. “My faith causes me to hold beliefs which I think should be respected, and I think Republicans should be doing the same thing for Democrats,” she said. “How many Republican presidents and Republican Congresses have we had and nothing’s changed? Obviously, the [hardline anti-abortion strategy] isn’t working.”
The Scholten campaign is hoping to capitalize on Republicans’ disillusionment with King. “You have two types of Republicans on the fence: those embarrassed by [King] for his extreme rhetoric but also those who are frustrated because he doesn’t do anything,” Irene Lin, Scholten’s campaign manager, told ThinkProgress recently. “Especially on ethanol and the Farm Bill, which are central to Iowa, they know he’s been AWOL.”
Lin added that the campaign hopes Scholten’s strong Iowan heritage (his family have been in the state for generations), coupled with a more middle-of-the-road stance on guns and abortions (he supports the Second Amendment but says more can be done to control access to weapons, and is pro-choice but wants to work to reduce the number of abortions) will help endear him to a historically red district.
“You have to fit your district — half of the 4th is evangelical and born-again,” Lin said.
Speaking from a personal perspective, she added, “My frustration as a pro-life person is that banning doesn’t help, what we need to do is actually care for women and improve access to sex education, foster care and contraception. These are things the pro-life movement does not want to do, they just want to ban it and criminalize women and doctors. That to me is what I find offensive.”
This article has been updated to remove identifying information of an interviewee’s family member, at their request.
Correction — An earlier version of this article misspelled Danielle Postma’s last name as Posta.