Campaigning in a lockdown




Last we saw JD Scholten in the flesh he was tooling Sioux City Sue, his ailing Winnebago, through the likes of Pomeroy, Early and Albert City last fall. These days, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Steve King is campaigning from his kitchen and itching to get on the road again.

“I’m just building a base right now,” said Scholten, a former semi-pro pitcher and paralegal who narrowly lost to King in 2018. He was referring to baseball, but it applies to politics as well.

He dials for dollars all day, soliciting sufficient contributions so far to leave him with $715,000 in the bank without much slick outside help. He gets on Facebook to do live interviews with politicians, athletes (Giants pitcher Tony Watson) and journalists. He calls and tweets and texts and emails.

And then he throws.

He bought a couple dozen baseballs after spring training shut down out of frustration. Having turned 40, he wanted to see if any lighting was left in that dormant right arm. So he thows 60 to 90 pitches into a net in daily bullpen sessions. He got up to 80 mph or so at the State Fair and that sort of bothered him. He wants to reach into the mid-80s.

“It tends to be a motivator for me,” Scholten said. “If I get through so many calls or meetings, then I can pitch.”

He really wishes he could get together with voters as he did by the dozen in his “Don’t Forget About Us” tour of villages under 1,000 population. He heard citizens talk about trade, ethanol, anti-trust and health care during that tour, and he told them we need a whole new deal to give rural places a fighting chance.

Sue has been in the shop with a $2,000 exhaust problem. She soon will be released for the road, and Scholten is itching to go.

“It’s all about flexibility and adaptability. I won’t be shaking hands. But I can get in the RV and go have neighborhood conversations outside, maybe after the June primary. I gotta make sure I show up in places like Chickasaw County.”

He expects to have at least $1 million in the bank after four Republican challengers and King compete in a June primary of uncertain turnout because of coronavirus. In the last quarter, King raised $42,917. Randy Feenstra of Hull raised $122,871. Scholten raised $338,579.

If King is the nominee, and Scholten believes he will be, “money will be no problem,” Scholten said. For the first time, a King challenger will have the endorsement of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Even if King loses the primary, Scholten insists he will be prepared for all comers.

He has 70 volunteers, paid staff and is building an infrastructure in 39 largely rural counties in Northwest Iowa.

“Everything has changed because we just don’t know about field organization,” Scholten said. Will door-knocking be a waste of time? Will the virus flare up in October? Nobody has a clue. He is thinking about face shields and “digital door-knocking” via text and email. He is getting coaching from Pete Buttigieg’s digital director, who was impressive in mining rural votes during the Iowa Caucuses.

“Maybe it’s just TV ads. We’ll learn from the primary campaigns,” Scholten said.

He is watching the primary races closely, and not just in the Fourth District. Five Democrats are running for the US Senate against incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak. The incumbent has $10.8 million. Theresa Greenfield has raised $5.6 million thanks to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s endorsement, Eddie Mauro raised $1.8 million (mainly from himself), Mike Franken of Sioux City drummed up $578,000 and Kimberly Graham got $198,000.

“Ultimately, it comes down to money,” Scholten said. He is not endorsing in that primary. He had thought hard about running for the seat himself, but Ernst had high popularity rankings a year ago. Now her approval rating is underwater, one of the lowest of a Senate incumbent.

Scholten feels like he is in a good position besides being stuck at home. He has done 20 Facebook live sessions, including interviews with doctors for Latinos with interpreting provided by Storm Lake City Councilman Jose Ibarra.

“It’s all about being creative,” said the challenger.

And keeping your focus during terribly confusing times.

That’s where pitching comes in.

“It’s about building the base before you let it fly,” he said. “When it comes to baseball, I don’t lose focus very easily.”

Or politics. Scholten expects to be ready and win.

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