Congressman Steve King’s November opponent accuses the congressman of “vituperative and uncivil behavior” during his speech at this past weekend’s Iowa Republican State Convention.

King drew laughter and extended applause from the crowd with these comments about the U.S. military’s killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. “He was always looking for another way to go to a deeper depth, and now I’ll contend that’s where he is today,” King said, as GOP convention delegates applauded. “And what occurred to me that morning is something that I imagine a lot of you have thought about and he’s probably figured it out by now. There probably are not 72 virgins in the hell he’s at and if there are, they probably all look like Helen Thomas.”

The crowd at the Republican state convention laughed at the reference to the 85-year-old White House reporter who has covered every president from J-F-K to the current President Bush, but Joyce Schulte, the Democrat running against King, doesn’t find King’s comments funny.

“I found them to be derogatory and insulting and less than what I would expect from a congressperson,” Schulte says. She says no one should be “surprised” by King’s remarks at this point in his career, but Schulte says his “desultory” and “mean-spirited” comments about the appearance of the elderly journalist were so low she had to respond.

“Thomas, I’m certain, can defend herself very, very well. She’s a marvelous journalist,” Schulte says. “I hate to reconnect her in a sense because she’s so much more gracious than what this comment was from Mr. King.” But even before King mentioned Helen Thomas, the G-O-P convention delegates repeatedly interrupted King with laughter and applause as he talked about his reaction to the capture of al-Zaqawi.

“When we captured Saddam Hussein, I thought I would celebrate (in) the fashion that the Iraqis did. I went out and shot my shotgun into the air,” King said, to laughter and applause. “This time I was in Washington, D.C. and they frown on those kind of things.”

White House correspondent Helen Thomas used to sit in the front row of presidential news conferences, but because of her acrimonious relationship with the current president and his staff she has been relegated to the back row.

For example, in 2003 a California newspaper published comments Thomas made after a Society for Professional Journalists awards banquet — Thomas called the current President Bush the worst president in American history.

To read King’s comments, and Schulte’s written statement reacting to them, log on to the Radio Iowa blog on this website.