SIOUX CITY -- After narrowly avoiding the first election loss in his long career, Rep. Steve King took to the podium early Wednesday to thank his supporters for standing behind him as he weathered a deluge of vicious political attacks.
"We may have lost in a landslide if it weren't for prayer," the Republican 4th District congressman told a crowd of more than 100 at the Stoney Creek Inn in Sioux City.
In a defiant victory speech, King lashed out at his critics, who he said attempted to "Kavanaugh-ize me, like this state has never seen, and like maybe America has never seen."
King, an eight-term incumbent widely known for his outspoken views on illegal immigration and Western Civilization, spent the final days of his campaign defending his remarks on race and support for political candidates and parties with ties to white supremacy.
His Democratic opponent, J.D. Scholten, seized on the issue, arguing King carried more about international politics than the concerns of voters in Northwest and Northcentral Iowa. The first-time candidate attracted national attention and millions of dollars of out-of-state campaign contributions in the last weeks of the campaign.
Two years after scoring a 23-point win over his Democratic opponent, King won Tuesday by just 10,500 votes, or 50 percent to 47 percent, in a district with 70,000 more Republican voters than Democrats. Scholten carried six counties, including the five most populous, Woodbury, Cerro Gordo, Story, Webster and Boone. The sixth was Floyd.
But King held on in a night when two of the other two congressional seats in Iowa were flipped by Democrats, challengers Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer, knocked off incumbent Republicans David Young and Rod Blum, respectively. Democrat Dave Loebsack defeated Christopher Peters in Iowa's 2nd District.
The victory was the tightest of King's career. His only other scare came in 2012 when he beat Christie Vilsack, wife of former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, 53 percent to 45 percent.
In an interview with the Associated Press, King said he appeared to be cruising to an easy victory this year, with an internal poll showing him 20 points ahead of Scholten.
In unexpected attacks began after news reports surfaced in September and October about his stance on immigration — he was described in one as "the most anti-immigrant member of Congress" — and a trip he took to Austria and his meeting there with members of the Freedom Party, which is associated with a man once active in neo-Nazi circles.
Then, in an unprecedented move, Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the House Republican's campaign arm, condemned King for "completely inappropriate," actions and remarks, saying in a tweet, "We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms."
King took aim at Stivers, R-Ohio, during his victory speech Tuesday night.
Stivers "was derogatory...about something that I never said," King told the audience. He "legitimized everything my opponents said about me...still we hung on."
With the Stivers-lead NRCC cutting off funds to his campaign, King, never a prolific fundraiser, was outspent more than 2-to-1 by Scholten, a first-time candidate.
Scholten said he pulled in $350,000 from over 7,500 individuals in a 24-hour period in late October, as national attention to King's recent controversies ramped up. Those were turned into more ads for Scholten, while King's first television spot didn't air until four days before the election.
Since he's had no need to run television ads in previous elections and hasn't had to raise money like other candidates, his campaign wasn't prepared to match the onslaught, King told the AP. He estimated he spent around $130,000 for advertising this campaign against Scholten's millions.
Just before noon Wednesday, King took to Twitter to hold forth again on his derision for the media and out-of-Iowa spending.
"Thank you 4th District Iowans for rejecting the coordinated hit-job of the Leftist press," he said in a tweet. "You also proved this Congressional seat is not for sale when your votes wiped out the 'Green T$unami' of East & West coast billionaires."
Scholten, a Sioux City native who played college and professional baseball, fell just short of pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the midterms.
Scholten won his home county of Woodbury by nearly 3,000 votes, 53 percent to 44 percent. It was the first time King had lost the district's most populous county since he first ran for the House in 2002. Scholten's best showing came in Story County, home to Ames and Iowa State University, where he won 65 percent of the ballots.
Even in many of the bright red counties King carried Tuesday, his support fell sharply from previous elections. In heavily Republican Sioux and Lyon counties, King won 73.3 percent and 71.9 percent, respectively, but that was down from his 2016 totals in those counties of 83.5 and 82.2, percent respectively.
King also ran behind Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in many 4th District counties. Reynolds, for instance, carried Woodbury County as she won a narrow victory over Democrat Fred Hubbell.
University of Northern Iowa Professor Christopher Larimer said he'll be looking to answer the intriguing question on whether independent voters were the people who were split ticket voters. Larimer in a Wednesday tweet said, No Party, or "NP voters likely a big part of the story and more needs to be done to understand their leanings. I will be interested to see the overall turnout numbers for NPs---if they were closer to partisans."
Despite the loss, Scholten said he was "damn proud" of his campaign team and for pushing the race to the point King was on the defensive. And, he suggested he may challenge King again.
After conceding Tuesday night, Scholten took to twitter to remind everyone that his Democratic heroes, former Iowa Congressman Berkley Bedell and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, both lost their first elections.
"You haven't seen the last of J.D. Scholten," he tweeted.