Iowa governor strides into Republican Party spotlight for Biden response

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.

Lesser known than 2024 presidential prospects Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Reynolds is expected to use the televised GOP response to highlight her five years presiding in the Republican-controlled Iowa Capitol, where she’s pursued an agenda every bit as conservative as her nationally rising peers.

"It’s Iowans making their own decisions for their own families and future," Reynolds said in January, repeatedly accusing the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress of overreach during the governor’s annual speech to a joint session of the Iowa Legislature.

Reynolds’ policy record — paired with the vocal support of former President Donald Trump, although with a lower national profile — might make her a safe choice for Republicans heading into a midterm election season where they are fighting to regain control of Congress.

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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 and ban from schools controversial books and teachings, including lessons about systemic racism and white privilege. 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.

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.

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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 has endeared herself to Iowa’s increasingly GOP-leaning electorate in no small part by opposing much of the Biden administration’s pandemic policy.

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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.

The position has helped keep Reynolds’ approval in healthy territory, 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.