What to do with Sioux City Sue?
Over the course of the Democratic primary and the general election for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District seat, then-challenger J.D. Scholten, family and campaign workers put approximately 25,000 miles on a 2015 Winnebago Brave 26A RV dubbed Sioux City Sue. The RV was transformed from a nondescript white caravan with maroon trim to the symbol of Scholten’s campaign, which nearly unseated then-eight-term incumbent U.S. Rep Steve King, R-Kiron.
“I used to joke, I spent more nights sleeping in a Walmart parking lot than in my own bed and it was really true,” Scholten said. “... For me, it represented our campaign. I spent so much time — so many hours and nights in it — it really became more than just a symbol. I was on a flight with someone last month from California and they were following my campaign. They asked, ‘What is Sioux City Sue up to?’ It is something that we are proud of and that branded well.”
Scholten said when he first considered running, he wanted something noticeable. He envisioned purchasing a used RV like the ones he knew from living on a family farm outside of Lake Mills. Lake Mills is “just up the road” from Winnebago Industries in Forest City and once Scholten’s campaign starting raising more money he began looking into purchasing an RV.
Soon he found the Sue online. He sent a friend to Arkansas to purchase the RV, “sight-unseen.” Scholten then named the 1970s-style RV after Sioux City Sue, a Gene Autry song he remembers singing as an elementary student. The RV seats eight passengers comfortably and had as many as three people sleep overnight in its four beds on one occasion.
“I got really comfortable in the RV,” Scholten said. “I got really used to the bed even though it wasn’t the most comfortable. It is just one of those things you grow with as you go. ... I actually just became friends with some of the RV attendees or park owners. It is lucky the campaign didn’t go a month longer because we only had to spend one night in it when it was snowing. There was one night where I felt really bad for the driver with me because we ended up running on propane. I woke up and it was just under 40 degrees in the RV itself.”
Scholten said he did the bulk of the driving at the start of the campaign. J.D. Scholten’s father, Jim Scholten, became a part time driver, mostly during the primary season, before a staffer assumed much of the driving responsibilities. Jim Scholten said his time as one of Sue’s drivers helped strengthen the bond with his son and gave him access to J.D. when he might have otherwise been limited in contact due to the then-candidate’s campaign schedule.
“It was the second day that I drove, but it was the first day he was doing a lot of events,” Jim Scholten said. “He did six events in six counties in the day. It was taxing, but it was more taxing for him. It was also a fun day because as a new candidate, he was evolving at those events. You could see he was clicking with the people and it made it fun for me to just sit back and watch.
He continued, “We stayed overnight in Clear Lake. Then they had an event in Belmond, Hampton, Charles City and then New Hampton. We also had something in between, so we stopped in Webster City too and ended up in Fort Dodge.”
J.D. Scholten explained his time traveling as a professional baseball player acted as preparation for the rigors of the campaign road. He said thumbs up gestures and acknowledgements from waving passersby were a “motivating factor.” As J.D. Scholten contemplates a future run, Sue remains idle. J.D. Scholten said he has received interest in leasing Sue from a couple of unnamed 2020 presidential hopefuls.
“I definitely think the RV and traveling contributed to his success,” Jim Scholten said. “He always said before he got the RV, nobody recognized him. After he got the RV people started noticing him and honking. He visited each county at least three times. Just getting out there and showing people he wasn’t leaving anyone behind was important. He got to some places that hadn’t had a politician visit for quite awhile.”