Maybe this time is different

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

We liked JD Scholten the moment we met him (although we endorsed his primary opponent he remained a cheery presence when he walked into the office). It’s his easy-going smile that almost always is there. He has a certain Iowa affectation that is genuine and endearing. And he is running against Steve King for Congress, so what’s not to like? Those who came before him we liked plenty (actually, loved Christie Vilsack). None of them won. The DC Democrats think nobody can beat King and they write us off in a self-fulfilling prophecy. This time they should pay attention. Something is happening.

First, Scholten has raised twice as many funds as King, mainly without help from the party. He struck gold with some California donors who are helping him build a grassroots small-donation campaign. It appears to be working. Because, second, he packed a crowd into Plaza Mexico on Tuesday the likes of which we have not seen in the past two decades for a Democratic congressional candidate. Several were independents we never have seen at a political event before.

Third, Scholten had a sharp, friendly bilingual aide making certain that every person had signed up, finding chairs, making sure trains ran on-time, and securing volunteers for the campaign. Nobody got away from her. This has not happened before, again a function of money.

Fourth, Scholten had Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Cal., on hand to testify for the campaign. Swalwell serves with King and wants to beat him. He is investing time in JD Scholten. If Swalwell is successful, it will vault him into the Iowa Presidential Caucus discussion. Swalwell knows it. We pressed him: Can he convince his Bay-Area neighbor Nancy Pelosi to finally put her shoulder behind getting rid of Steve King? “I am certainly calling and talking to my friends,” Swalwell said. And, we asked him: Do the House Democrats understand that if you leave King in place, your chances of making progress statewide in Iowa are blunted? “Yes, I am trying to convey that message.”

That is clear as any politician with presidential aspirations can be. He wants to avoid setting expectations.

But there is energy on the ground in Iowa. They can feel it.

An Iowa Poll conducted by the brilliant Ann Selzer of West Des Moines a few months ago had King essentially in a dead heat with a generic Democrat. The DC power brokers say they need another poll (by one of their DC pals currently low on funds) to prove to them that King can be put out to pasture. Where candidates before could not play that game, Scholten can. He will get them their stupid poll, because they still don’t understand that King is a huge impediment toward stability in a swing state. So long as King has a bullhorn Elizabeth Warren is Pocahontas and our Mexican neighbors are criminals. Swalwell and Scholten understand. So do most Iowa politicians.

Scholten drew a large crowd in Algona on Tuesday night, our old friends tell us. This is where the race will be won in the Fourth District, in those county-seat towns along the US highways. Scholten seems to have a real appreciation for them — his grandparents farmed at Lake Mills, home of Terry Branstad — and knows the territory around which he rambles at the wheel of his used Winnebago built long ago in Forest City with a custom paint job by PT Barnum.

By gosh the people like this 30-something bachelor paralegal — and former right-handed semi-pro pitcher — who threw in everything and took to the road preaching for a healing of Northwest Iowa from division. That’s what Berkley Bedell and Fred Grandy were about, Tom Latham too. They sought to represent all of us and could help us swallow the other point of view because they were nice, honest men with no real personal agenda. Latham quit Congress when he saw how the likes of King treated former House Speaker John Boehner.

Swalwell knows King enough not to like him, but he urged people not to focus on King but on what Scholten can accomplish. Easy for him to say. We’re tired, personally, of being called racist hicks every time our congressman opens his mouth. We’re tired of watching the House try to cut conservation and food stamp funding. We are absolutely sick of hearing about this border wall that will keep absolutely no one out but the disabled who cannot climb a ladder. We want a congressman who can help grow our economy by helping provide more affordable housing, better water and sewer programs for disadvantaged rural communities, and, yes, an immigration system that accommodates demand for labor in food processing and agriculture. Currently, we have a congressman whose main job it is to get on Fox News and talk about our Exceptionalism, which he also tweets about with avowed white supremacists.

And he backs this President, this man who cannot breathe without lying, to the hilt as he wipes out international trade gains made by corn, soy and pork producers in particular. That backdrop — Trump’s lying and the double-crossing of his own base, King’s people — could be King’s undoing. That’s what feels different today: an electorate fed up with the corruption and cynicism of Washington, but now an alternative in JD Scholten has cropped up with a little money in his wallet and a message of unity against the madness, with a sense of humor. Oh, for that relief we pray. Vote for JD Scholten. Make it different this time. Enough is enough.