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Steve King staffer to run in 2018 to oust Republican-turned-independent Johnson

Steve King staffer to run in 2018 to oust Republican-turned-independent Johnson


SIOUX CITY | The 2016 election is 10 weeks off, but a Republican has already announced he plans to run in 2018 to oust a longtime state senator from Northwest Iowa who withdrew his Republican registration to protest the party's embrace of Donald Trump as its presidential nominee.

Zach Whiting, 28, of Spencer, told the Journal on Monday that he will run for Iowa Senate District 1, which state Sen. David Johnson, of Ocheyedan, has represented since 1999. Johnson in June said he was leaving the Republican Party, due to Trump's controversial statements on immigration and other issues.

Whiting has been a policy adviser in U.S. Rep. Steve King's Spencer office for just over a week, after shifting from working for the outspoken Republican congressman in Washington. While living in Spirit Lake at age 22, Whiting unsuccessfully ran for an Iowa House seat in 2010, falling in a Republican primary to eventual Rep. Jeff Smith.

With six more years of life experience, including earning a law degree and getting married, Whiting said, "I have a better understanding of politics and policy."

Iowa Senate District 1 includes all or parts of Clay, Dickinson, Lyon, Osceola and Palo Alto counties. Based on voter registration statistics, it is the second-most Republican district in Iowa, behind only the neighboring District 2. (In a tweet this weekend in which he trumpeted Whiting as District 1's next senator, King mistakenly referred to that district as the most Republican.)

Johnson has said he won't vote for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, nor will he vote for Trump, whom he has called a bigot. Whiting said district voters are without the representation, since they expected Johnson would work as a Republican when he was elected to another four-year term in 2014.

Whiting said Johnson, as an independent, now holds no committee assignments, which means he can't work effectively for district residents. Whiting said he believes in fiscal and social policies of the political right, which are "conservative principles that (Johnson) has abandoned."

Johnson also took a contrarian stance earlier this year in supporting King's 4th District opponent, state Sen. Rick Bertrand of Sioux City, when King faced a Republican primary challenge for the first time. King defeated Bertrand in June, and now faces Democrat Kim Weaver, of Sheldon, in November.

Johnson was the only elected official in Iowa who publicly supported Bertrand. After King defeated Bertrand, Johnson told the Journal he would support Bertrand in another primary contest to defeat King: "There is too much blind loyalty to Steve King."

Whiting said Johnson's stance on the Republican congressional primary did not impact his decision to run in 2018.

"No, not at all...It is not sour grapes," Whiting said.

He said if that were his motivation, he would have announced his candidacy in June.

Whiting said if Johnson "will sneak around and rejoin" the Republican Party and run for re-election, they would meet in the June 2018 primary. If Johnson remains an independent and gathers enough signatures to have his name placed on the November ballot, Whiting would face him as the GOP nominee.


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