Iowa governor strides into GOP spotlight for Biden response
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is introducing herself to a divided nation as the Republican foil to President Joe Biden after his State of the Union address, though without the presidential buzz that often accompanies the role.
But more than just promoting the rightward strides she has enacted in five years presiding over a Republican-controlled Capitol, Reynolds is delivering the GOP’s national messaging heading into a midterm election where they hope to win back control of Congress.
“Instead of moving America forward, it feels like President Biden and his party have sent us back in time to the late ’70s and early ’80s, when runaway inflation was hammering families, a violent crime wave was crashing on our cities, and the Soviet army was trying to redraw the world map,” Reynolds is expected to say, according to excerpts of the speech made available before delivery.
Since last year Republicans have talked up increases in crime and rising inflation as signs of a nation in turmoil. But Reynolds’ critique of Biden for the Russian invasion of Ukraine signaled a new line, adding to Republicans’ withering criticism of the administration’s handling of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last fall.
It’s part of a broader swipe at Biden, who brought to the White House eight years as vice president and decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on what had been a perceived strength of his administration.
Reynolds, whose foreign affairs experience is limited to overseas economic development missions, also pointed to North Korea “testing missiles again at an alarming rate” as a knock on Biden’s international prowess.
Reynolds’ policy record — paired with the vocal support of former President Donald Trump, although with a lower national profile — seemed to make her a safe choice for Republicans as they present their message to the country.
Reynolds’ agenda has been to slash taxes, finance private school options, trim access to voting, keep transgender student athletes from competing with those who share their identity gender. Last June, she dispatched about 30 Iowa State Patrol officers to the U.S.-Mexico border for roughly two weeks to assist with law enforcement.
It’s a familiar list of national GOP priorities, one that’s been pursued by DeSantis, Abbott and others, though Reynolds has suggested she has no ambition beyond Iowa. Still, she has increasingly become a regular presence to a national Republican audience over the past year, appearing on Fox News about a dozen times.
Reynolds has endeared herself to Iowa’s increasingly GOP-leaning electorate in no small part by opposing much of the Biden administration’s pandemic policy.
She resisted mask requirements and joined other states in lawsuits to fight the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates. She also was the first governor to require schools to resume in-person classes and fought with some districts that tried to continue online learning recommended by public health officials to slow virus spread.
“I was attacked by the left. I was attacked by the media. But it wasn’t a hard choice. It was the right choice,” she said, according to the remarks. “And keeping schools open is only the start of the pro-parent, pro-family revolution that Republicans are leading in lowa and states across this country.”
Last year, Reynolds signed legislation banning from schools controversial books and teachings, including lessons about systemic racism and white privilege.
Tuesday’s response to Biden’s speech from Des Moines elevates her into the national dialogue. It’s a long way from the Clarke County courthouse in rural southern Iowa where she was treasurer before serving just two years in the state Senate, where Republican Terry Branstad plucked her to run for lieutenant governor in 2010.
Reynolds became governor in 2017 after Branstad was confirmed as Trump’s nominee for ambassador to China. She narrowly won the seat outright in 2018 and is viewed as heavily favored for reelection in 2022, with millions more in campaign cash than her far lesser-known would-be Democratic challenger, Des Moines businesswoman Deidre Dejear, in a state Trump carried handily twice.
Reynolds quickly stepped into the role as Trump’s top advocate in Iowa, campaigning with him before the 2020 election. She also stood with Trump during a Des Moines rally last October, after he had left office, when he repeated the falsehood — roundly rejected by state officials and the courts — that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“She’s so tough. She’s so tough. Kim, great job,” Trump said of Reynolds to a crowd of thousands during the rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. “She’s been an incredible governor, done a great job.”
Reynolds said last month of Trump during a public affairs program in Iowa that she “wouldn’t be surprised if he endorses me.”
Reynolds’ approval remains healthy, lifted especially by strong support within her party. The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll in November showed 88% of Republicans approving of the job she was doing, higher even than her state’s GOP Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley.
“She fought COVID without declaring war on freedom or common sense,” Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said ahead of her speech Tuesday.
Associated Press writer David Pitt contributed to this report.
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