“I called Randy Feenstra a little while ago and admitted the contest to him,” King said in a video posted on Facebook early Wednesday morning. “And I pointed out that there are some powerful elements in the swamp that he will have a very difficult time pushing back at them.”
The main struggle was an undeniable referendum on King – not his conservatism, but his effectiveness in his office. His lack of power, much more than his specific words and history of racial remarks, became a central issue throughout the year, with opponents claiming he could not represent his views in the House or the administration.
King has said his words have been mischaracterized and taken out of context and blames the media and Republican leaders for leading a vendetta against him.
“The Never Trumpers are the people who have done it all,” King said in a recent debate, speaking with resilience about Republicans “who want Steve King out of the way.”
In his concession speech, King said that these forces drove him out of the office.
“This comes from an effort to push out the strongest voice for full spectrum, constitutional Christian conservatism found in the United States Congress,” King said.
Feenstra was considered King’s toughest opponent in a five-way race that included former state legislator Jeremy Taylor, businessmen Steve Reeder and Army veteran Bret Richards.
“I am truly humbled by the exclusion of support over the past 17 months that made this evening possible and I thank Congressman King for his decades of public service,” Feenstra said in a statement. “As we turn to the general election, I will remain focused on my plans to deliver results to the families, farmers and communities of Iowa. But first, we must make sure that this place does not land in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and her liberal allies in Congress. Tomorrow we will return to work. “
“The Fourth District needs a seat at the table – an effective conservative vote,” Feenstra said in a recent debate. “Our district, our president, deserves an effective Conservative leader in Congress.”
Two years ago, fewer than 3,000 absentee ballots were registered. The dramatic surge in absentee ballots seemed to help judge the longtime congressman by getting new Republican voters.
Bob Vander Plaats, a former King supporter and influential Christian conservative, approved Feenstra, worried that if King wins the primary, Democrats would get a better shot at not only winning his deep red district in northwest Iowa but also defeating President Donald Trump and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst. Democrat J.D. Scholten, a former professional baseball player, came within three points to beat King 2018 and drive again.
Last week, Vander Plaats told CNN that there had been a “growing fatigue” with King in the Fourth District and a “gradual clarity” that “his voice is no longer wanted at the table.”
King replied that Vander Plaats and Feenstra sacrificed their principles “in their misguided efforts to shut down real conservatives and surrender this district to RINO’s and NeverTrumpers.”
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Manu Raju contributed to this report.