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DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ delivery of the Republican Party’s response to Democratic President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address received passing grades from a trio of experts on Iowa politics.
In roughly 15 minutes of remarks broadcast late Tuesday from Des Moines shortly after Biden’s address, Reynolds delivered strong criticism of Biden and Democrats on foreign policy, the economy, crime and parental involvement in education.
Reynolds also touted her own efforts, along with statehouse Iowa Republicans, to lower taxes and reopen schools and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Iowa political experts spoke not to the policy content of Reynolds’ remarks, but to her delivery of the Republican message to a national TV audience.
“This is a nearly impossible task. Compared to all of the other responses I’ve seen over the years, I thought Gov. Reynolds did a very nice job,” said Rachel Paine Caufield, a political-science professor at Drake University. “It was clear, direct, poised, but not stiff. She appeared strong and principled, but also relatable.”
Tim Hagle, a political-science professor at the University of Iowa, said the out-of-power party’s State of the Union response is a difficult assignment because the person is not technically responding to the address — the response is written well in advance of the president’s address — and because there is no live audience to energize the speaker.
“In any case, Reynolds did a good job,” Hagle said. “Her delivery was good, with good variation and emphasis. She did have one spot where she glanced off camera, but aside from that did a good job of speaking to the viewers through the camera. She hit her points in a direct way and that did a good job of personalizing them for average voters who may not be engaged politically 24/7.”
Dennis Goldford, a political-science professor at Drake University, said Reynolds did an “adequate” job by pitching Republican talking points and avoiding big mistakes.
Those talking points could continue to be heard as the 2022 midterm elections progress and candidates ramp up their campaigns. Reynolds’ sharp words may be the template for other Republican candidates for office.
The midterm elections are important to Reynolds’ own political future: her first full, four-year term is coming to an end. She has not yet announced her re-election campaign, but is widely expected to run the November elections.
“Reynolds did seem to lay out the Republican campaign issues and positions for 2022 in a way that was simply non-Trumpian rather than full-bore Trumpian,” Goldford said, referring to former Republican President Donald Trump. “Her points were standard Republican rather than MAGA meat.”
Reynolds’ selection for giving the remarks and her focus on many national issues has political watchers wondering whether she has aspirations for federal office, be that a run for president, as a presidential candidate’s running mate, or for a lofty position in a Republican president’s administration.
“She seemed to emphasize that she was happy and grateful to be the governor of Iowa,” Hagle said. “I certainly can’t say if she has political ambitions beyond Iowa, but you never know when opportunity might come knocking.”
The last Iowan to deliver the State of the Union response, Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst in 2015, shortly afterward was considered as a potential running mate to Trump.
Goldford, however, said the State of the Union response is not much of a political springboard.
“I can’t recall a SOTU response turning the speaker into a VP candidate,” he said.
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