J.D. Scholten’s second bid for a seat in Congress follows a close loss to Rep. Steve King, R-Storm Lake, in 2018.
Nearly 19% of the votes Scholten received in the 2018 election came from Story County, where there are tens of thousands of students at Iowa State. From the 2014 midterm elections, there was a 10% increase in the number of 18-29 year olds who turned out to vote, up to 31%— the highest level youth voter turnout has been in decades.
In a phone interview, Scholten said he hopes he can keep the enthusiasm among young voters high.
“I mean that’s absolutely part of our goal, and I think having a cycle … of experience in us, I think we want to take some of the lessons we learned, and … not only keep the base, but expand the base at Iowa State,” Scholten said.
On the cost of attending Iowa State, the candidate said he doesn’t think “a college like Iowa State should cost more than what you can make at a summer job.”
“We need to make Iowa State affordable for everyone so everybody can have the opportunity to gain the education that they desire,” Scholten said.
Scholten ran the closest race of any Democrat who has ever run against King for Congress, improving on Christie Vilsack’s 8% loss to him in 2012.
Despite coming within 4% of defeating King in the midterm elections, however, Scholten faces an uphill battle to win Iowa’s 4th Congressional District this time around.
Mack Shelley, Iowa State professor and chair of the political science department, said “there is a pretty good chance [King] will not survive the primary, given the fundraising … particularly by [Sen.] Randy Feenstra.”
Shelley added he believes Feenstra would have a better chance of holding the district for Republicans than King, though Democrats “are quite likely to infuse top dollars” as the seat presents a “potential pickup opportunity.”
Feenstra issued a statement after Scholten entered the race, saying King nearly "handed" the district to Scholten in the 2018 race, adding Republican primary voters need to nominate "an effective conservative that will win in November," and calling himself "an effective conservative that will win in November."
Scholten said he believes he can win the race regardless of who his opponent is.
“I’m going at this race just like I did when I was a minor league baseball pitcher, and it didn’t matter who the opponent was, I was going to pitch my game and pitch to my strengths,” Scholten said. “[W]e did a town hall in all 39 counties [in the district] last time — if anybody showed up to it — you would know we didn’t really talk much about Steve King, we [talked about] what we’re for.”
With Iowa’s status as the first state to vote in the Democratic primary calendar, the race has received attention from several Democratic presidential candidates since Scholten’s entry.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., tweeted Scholten “has already proven he can bring people together.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tweeted “Today especially, I’m reminded just how important it is we elect people the highest moral character to represent us — people like [Scholten].”
Scholten said he is very grateful his message has been amplified on social media by 2020 candidates, but “at the end of the day it’s about us getting in Sioux City Sue and driving all over the district and earning votes regardless of whether you’re Republican, Democrat or Independent.”