US Representative Steve King of Iowa, the nine-term Republican with a long history of racist rhetoric and interactions with white nationalists, has lost his bid to be nominated for a 10th term early on Wednesday – one of the biggest defeats of the 2020 primary season in any state.
The 71-year-old Iowa native faced four challengers in Tuesday’s Iowa primary.
With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Randy Feenstra – a state senator who had the backing of several major Republican organisations – was leading King 46 percent to 36 percent when the race was called.
King is the second incumbent to lose a primary this year, after Illinois Democratic Representative Daniel Lipinksi, who lost to a progressive challenger in March.
“I am truly humbled by the outpouring of support over the past 17 months that made tonight 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 for the families, farmers and communities of Iowa.”
His victory increases the odds that Republicans will hold on to the seat in the November US presidential election.
‘Calves the size of cantaloupes’
Provocative statements piling up over the years were a drag on King’s latest campaign.
He has compared immigrants crossing the US border illegally to cattle. In 2013, he said undocumented immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert”.
He has also been associated with far-right figures including Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
Tuesday’s vote came at a particularly charged moment, as major cities have seen widespread protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last week.
The House last year overwhelmingly voted to repudiate King’s comments questioning why “white supremacy” is offensive, with King himself joining in that vote. The House stripped him of his committee assignments as a result.
A month later, he wondered aloud whether the human race would exist without rape and incest, prompting renewed calls for him to step down.
King urged construction of a border wall in 2006, nearly a decade before Donald Trump ran for president calling for the same.
The loss of his committee posts gave a new opening to King’s opponents to question his effectiveness. Feenstra focused his attacks on King by arguing he was no longer an effective ally for Trump in Washington.
King once suggested that immigration involving Muslim children was stopping US civilisation from being “restored”.
In a June 2018 interview, he said Somali Muslims should not work in meat-packing plants because he does not “want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops”.
King once appeared to joke about how China’s government had forced Uighur Muslims to eat pork.
“They want them to put on Chinese clothing and eat Chinese diet, which includes trying to force the Muslims to eat pork,” he said. “That’s actually the only part of that that I agree with. Everybody ought to eat pork. If you have a shortage of bacon, you can’t be happy.”