Walking out of the capitol the other day I ran into Representative Rob Taylor of West DesMoines. Taylor and his wife were the state co-chairs for Dr. Carson’s presidential campaign in Iowa. I asked if he’d gotten an apology from Congressman Steve King yet. It was pretty clear that he had not.
“Generally when leaders make a mistake they step up and apologize,” Rep. Taylor explained, “but there has been no apology. It was conduct unbecoming an Iowan. Ted Cruz aside, Steve is still a congressman for our state.” For those that missed the dust up, Congressman King tweeted out just as Republicans were about to start their caucus that Dr. Carson was dropping out of the race, and he encouraged Republicans to cast their vote for Ted Cruz instead. King has been catching heat ever since. But what Taylor told me next caught me completely by surprise.
“I’ve been getting phone calls from folks asking ‘have you ever thought about moving over and challenging King?’” Taylor, who lives in Dallas County would need to move across into Boone or Story county – not much of a leap. So I asked, “well, would you?” Taylor was unequivocal, “Not my circus, not my monkey.” So that’s a No. However, he added, “The calls aren’t just from Dr. Carson’s supporters. They are from other folks as well. There are a lot of angry folks out there.”
The anger at King isn’t limited to the caucus night shenanigans. There are more ethanol producers in Iowa’s 4th congressional district than anywhere else in the country; and right now they are feeling betrayed. The renewable fuels industry had Cruz squarely in their sights, they had Governor Branstad taking shots at him, they were dumping mailer after mailer on him, and lining up a very tough week of questioning at his town halls by Iowa farmers – what they didn’t count on was Congressman King playing defense for Cruz. The way they see it, King choose currying favor with a presidential candidate over sticking up for his district.
So, apparently Republicans and farmers are feeling the same ire toward the congressman usually reserved for Democrats. So what. They are stuck with him. They aren’t about to choose a Democrat over King, and the district is heavily Republican. End of story. Unless of course, you happen to follow Nick Ryan on twitter.
Ryan is a long time political operative based in Iowa, but with a national footprint. I first met him when he was Congressman Nussle’s chief of staff. Since then he’s run statewide campaigns, ran the Rick Santorum efforts nationally in 2012, and the super pac supporting Governor Huckabee in 2016. Nationally he operates the American Future Fund – what this newspaper likes to call a “dark money” organization that’s played major rolls in US Senate races across the country. And for the last several months, Ryan has been “trolling” King on twitter.
“King sold out farmers, his district and his state. Embarrassment” That tweet came from neither Donald Trump nor a Democrat operative, although it sounds like something they might send . It was Nick Ryan.
“King is a pathetic excuse for a public servant. Time to turn the page. Iowa deserves better.”
“Come on tour & see the beginning of the Steve King retirement tour. A page turn is coming.”
“Steve King is an embarrassment. I look forward to Feb. 2 so the process to replace him as my congressman can begin”
And the tweets go on and on. Ryan isn’t just trolling King; he is telegraphing a message. He wants to take King down in a Republican primary. In the parlance of this paper, that takes a lot of brass. Ralph Waldo Emmerson once wrote, “never strike at a king unless you are sure you can kill him.” Different king, but the advice still applies, and it is surely something Ryan has considered.
Nick Ryan, however, won’t be the candidate himself. At least I’d be shocked if he was. Rather he is sending the message that he, and his friends, want to support a candidate. He’s even tweeted at Rep. Taylor “lets talk Rob. Time to retire Steve King and end the embarrassment.”
But Taylor isn’t moving.
Time is also short. Should someone want to challenge King in the Republican primary the deadline to file nomination papers is March 18th (33 days away) and after that its only 81 more days until the June 7th primary. A short time frame to ramp up and run a congressional campaign in a district covering 39 counties and spanning Sioux City to Fort Dodge, to Mason City to Ames. But as they say in politics, 24 hours is an eternity.
For those that enjoy a good political fight, wow, you couldn’t ask for more. A compressed time frame, a one time outsider now cast as part of the establishment (20 years in public office will do that to you), angry constituents, anger at Washington, anger at the incumbent, and lots and lots of newly registered voters. Sounds like the ingredients of electoral dynamite. The only question remaining, is anyone out there wiling to lite the fuse?