State Senator Who Compared Trump to Hitler Facing Challenge from Steve King Aide

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Zach Whiting, a 28-year-old aide for Congressman Steve King from Spencer, has announced plans to run for the state Senate seat held by the Iowa state senator who in June became the first elected Republican to leave his party in protest of Donald Trump — a “bigot with racial bias” — becoming the GOP presidential nominee.

According to a report Sunday at the N’West Iowa Review, Whiting says he will challenge the disillusioned incumbent, 69-year-old David Johnson of Ocheyedan, for his District 1 seat when he’s up for re-election in 2018 — if he’s still around. Otherwise, Whiting suggested to reporter Tom Lawrence, he’d like to be considered in the special election (PDF) that would be required to fill the vacancy. Johnson has reportedly said he has no plans to step down.

Johnson made national headlines when he switched his affiliation to no party in June, telling the Guardian that Trump gained his popularity in Hitleresque fashion “by reducing his campaign to reality TV and large crowds and divisive language and all the trappings of a good show for those who like that kind of approach, and that’s what happened in the 1930s in Germany.”

After making his move, the GOP chairs of the counties in Johnson’s district withdrew their support for him in an open letter that read, “You recklessly abandoned your party, your supporters, your constituents and your friends by declaring a ‘no affiliation’ status.” In response, Johnson told the Review, “The chairs of the northwest Iowa counties have done a great job, but in this open letter to me, they are putting party before state and putting party before country.”

Gov. Terry Branstad, who has embraced Trumpliterally — as many party leaders elsewhere have kept their distance, criticized Johnson, too, telling reporters, “He comes from a very Republican area and I think a lot of people up there think he should support his constituents.”

The erstwhile Republican has also been at odds with Whiting’s boss: He contributed campaign cash to Sioux City state Sen. Rick Bertrand’s unsuccessful primary challenge against King and later told the Sioux City Journal he’d do so again, adding, “There is too much blind loyalty to Steve King.”

“David Johnson’s decision to leave the Republican Party has left his constituents without a representative, without an effective representative,” Whiting told the Review. King tweeted the story with a congratulatory message when the story was published online:

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.