Democrat Kim Weaver was all set to give Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King an unexpectedly strong challenge in his reelection bid. But after reportedly receiving death threats during the campaign, she has announced her withdrawal from the race. This is our distressingly toxic new political reality.
Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King has been occupying a seat in Congress for over 14 years. And in that time, he has proven himself time and again to be a far-right ideologue trafficking in, among much else, overt racism, homophobia, and retrogressive sexism.
Yet he has consistently won reelection by large margins, with Democratic opponents rarely able to put up much of a fight in deep-red Iowa.
Until earlier this year, when local Iowan Kim Weaver publicly rebuked King for a racist, xenophobic statement he made on Twitter, and saw her campaign donations soar in response. And she continued to call King out when he, once again, took to Twitter to sling a bigoted "joke" at a Latina constituent.
It started to seem that King's reelection might not be a given this time around, and that perhaps the public, emboldened by the resistance to the Trump administration, would be far less forgiving of King's brand of hateful, ignorant political showmanship.
But unfortunately, the toxic new political reality that Donald Trump dragged along behind him as he entered the White House has also taken up residence in the heartland.
Citing "very alarming acts of intimidation, including death threats," Weaver announced that she would be withdrawing from the race.
She added, "While some may say enduring threats are just a part of running for office, my personal safety has increasingly become a concern."
She further noted concerns about her own health — in light of having to leave her job, and thus her health insurance, in order to campaign full-time, and looking ahead to the possible dismantling of the Affordable Care Act by the GOP — and the need to support her aging mother.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Weaver explained that the intimidation had included threatening phone calls and emails, as well as someone posting a "for sale" sign in front of her home.
And she discussed a further disturbing reason for her decision:
[Weaver alleged] that the state of Iowa's Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman, where she is an employee, saw its budget cut this year as "punishment" for her political candidacy.
The office received a $164,000 cut this year — a 12 percent reduction from the previous year.
"I'm feeling guilty that we lost this funding because I'm running for office," Weaver said, adding that she was prepared to take a "voluntary layoff" if the cut requires a staff reduction.
Weaver told the paper that her supervisor, relaying information from a state legislator, told her that the budget cut was connected to her candidacy.
Death threats and retaliatory cuts to crucial funding should not be the price one pays for running a campaign that deviates from small-town conservative norms. A Democrat in Iowa may be far more of an underdog than one in California or New York, but they have the same right to run for office as their counterparts on the coasts.
But among the darker, meaner elements of the political audience which Trump's campaign welcomed to the fore with open arms, and which surely felt validated by his Electoral College win, there are apparently those who not only do not want a Democrat to win in their communities — they do not even want to see one on the ballot.
After all, the disgraceful, often violent words and actions coming from their own elected officials goes to show that this kind of behavior often goes unpunished, and may even reap rewards.
But while the despicable tide of spitefulness may have risen for the moment in Iowa, other red states are telling a different story. And the competing wave of resistance continues to grow across the nation — including the heartland that belongs to both Steve King and Kim Weaver.