The multi-pronged effort will involve microtargeting online, phone calls, and mail pieces. Starting on April 23, Defending Main Street’s campaign is intended to galvanize constituents and party leaders who may be wary of King after years of touchy comments from the congressman.
In January, the group’s sister organization -- Republican Main Street Partnership PAC -- became the first among Republican organizations to endorse one of King’s challengers. Randy Feenstra, an Iowa state senator, is just one of several Republicans challenging King after he lost his committee assignments in response to controversial comments he made about white supremacy.
“Randy really is a perfect mainstreet guy,” Republican Main Street Partnership PAC CEO Sarah Chamberlain told Fox News on Monday. She added that King’s constituents needed different representation and Feenstra, who went through the PAC’s school for candidates, was a fiscal conservative who fit the bill.
For years, King has earned the party a smattering of negative publicity and, in doing so, helped tie it to some of its more extreme elements. King, for example, faced calls for his resignation from both GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., when the Times published an interview in which he questioned why terms like “white supremacist” had become “offensive.” King has claimed the paper did not accurately report the meaning of his comments.
King has defended himself and said it was a “freshman mistake” in agreeing to the interview. He also maintained that he opposed illegal immigration, not immigrants in general.
Despite his inflammatory rhetoric, Chamberlain told Fox News she doesn’t want to vilify him or allow his team to create a “martyr” in Iowa’s deeply conservative 4th district. Instead, she plans to focus on his record -- pointing to his recent decision not to vote for a coronavirus stimulus package. King said he opposed that legislation due to the projected impact on small businesses.
"The bill places onerous paid sick-leave requirements on small businesses. The impact, if left uncorrected by the Senate, is a viral threat to the survival of thousands of small businesses and will force many of them out of business," King said in a press release. He also criticized a Senate stimulus package for a provision regulating airline emissions.
“He doesn’t represent the district,” Chamberlain said. “He’s not in any committees, he did not vote for this latest package to help Main Street America.”
"Randy Feenstra's RINO super PAC backers are funded by leftist organizations and establishment never-Trumpers who have never found a principle they are willing to stand on," King campaign spokesman Jeff King, the congressman's youngest son, said in a statement. "Congressman King is the true consistent conservative who has never let Iowans down. Our campaign is used to having coastal elites try to manipulate Iowa voters. Iowans don't get fooled by outside special interest groups."
Chamberlain pointed to Feenstra's deep roots in Iowa. A former businessman, he was elected to the state legislature in 2008 and has served on a number of committees. That includes the state senate's Ways and Means Committee, which he chaired before stepping down last year.
The six-figure effort has been months in the making, but Chamberlain said her strategy changed substantially as the coronavirus dramatically changed the landscape for campaigning. Her group prides itself on in-depth interviews that it uses to capture voter sentiment and quickly shift its strategy based on the data it receives. Typically conducted in person, those interviews will now take place over the phone due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results, Chamberlain said, could prompt a greater focus on television during the campaign.
The group is also hoping to turn challenges posed by the pandemic into strengths, telling Fox News that it intends to expand voter turnout through mail-in ballots. The ease of mail-in ballots will serve as “encouragement” for Iowans to cast their votes this season, Chamberlain predicted.
This is the first effort by the Super PAC to unseat a Republican incumbent. Although its sister organization, Republican Mainstreet Partnership, has existed for decades as a 501(c)4, the Defending Main Street Super PAC has only been active since 2016. The Super PAC claims to have won 11 our of 12 general election House seats in 2016.
Republican Main Street Partnership includes a long list of members, including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is often cited as one of those most prominent Republican moderates.