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DES MOINES — One of the biggest moments of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ political career comes Tuesday night when she will address the nation.
Reynolds, Iowa’s first female governor who has served in the office since 2017, will provide the Republican Party’s response to Democratic President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address.
A governor in the American Heartland, Reynolds will speak to the nation against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and with her assumed re-election campaign coming later this year.
Biden’s State of the Union address is scheduled for 8 p.m. Shortly after his remarks are completed, Reynolds will deliver the Republican response from Des Moines.
Rachel Paine Caufield, a political science professor at Drake University, said the selection is a big deal for Reynolds since the political party out of power in the White House typically tries to select a rising star from within its ranks to make the address.
“This is the singular voice from within the party that doesn’t hold the White House that’s going to have an opportunity to speak to the public … There aren’t many venues anymore that you’re going to get the kind of exposure that you’re going to get Tuesday night,” Caufield said.
Caufield said Reynolds makes sense as Republicans’ choice for the response at a time when the party waits on whether former President Donald Trump will attempt to run for another term in 2024.
“(Republicans) clearly have a pretty significant rift between a Donald Trump faction and a more mainstream faction, and I think Kim Reynolds balances those two factions in an interesting way,” Caufield said. “She speaks to Midwest, suburban, white women voters. … That elevates her, and allows the Republican Party to position itself for the midterm (election) cycle.”
Reynolds has not yet declared her intention to run for another four-year term as governor, although she is widely expected to do so.
Aside from making myriad appearances on Fox News’ national cable TV programming, Reynolds has not indicated a desire to run for national office. Nonetheless, Caufield said Tuesday night’s address could raise Reynolds’ national profile.
“I don’t think it’s a statement that she has intentions to run, but I think it gives her options should she choose to run for higher office,” Caufield said.
Timothy Hagle, a political-science professor at the University of Iowa, said he expects Reynolds to talk about many of the same complaints that Republicans have been raising during Biden’s first year in office: inflation, border and immigration policy, and pandemic response policies.
“A lot of the information in it won’t be much of a surprise,” said Hagle. “Usually the (political party not in power) is looking forward to the next election.”
Reynolds also likely will talk about her recent record in Iowa, where during the COVID-19 pandemic she has, for the most part, dialed back restrictive policies and mitigation strategies in the name of keeping businesses and schools open. And she likely will highlight the $1.9 billion package of state income tax cuts she plans to sign into law earlier Tuesday.
“She has pursued a conservative agenda … and has done so with what most people would recognize as good results. So I think in some ways the reason she was chosen is she provides an example of what Republican governance can look like through a pandemic, and that provides a counterpoint to some of the more extreme governors we’ve seen highlighted in the national discourse,” Caufield said.
“I suspect she will push back on some of the bigger, more ambitious programs that Biden is outlining by making the argument that (in Reynolds’ view) conservative principals are pretty effective in providing economic stability while balancing it with individual freedoms,” Caufield added.“ It’s where Republicans want to position themselves right now going into the midterm cycles.”
Iowa Democrats have been critical of Reynolds’ pandemic response policies, and point out that many of the pandemic response programs and funding that Reynolds’ office oversees have been financed by federal relief funding that most Republicans voted against and Reynolds criticized.
“Americans should be wary of someone who refuses to acknowledge the thousands of preventable COVID-19 deaths, who prioritizes corporate tax giveaways for her donors over funding public schools facing consolidation, whose actions have compounded a workforce crisis that she created, and who takes credit for Democrats’ accomplishments,” Iowa Democratic Party chairman Ross Wilburn said in a statement.
Reynolds’ big moment comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has captured the world’s attention. Biden is expected to talk about Ukraine in his address.
Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s longtime Republican U.S. senator, said despite her lack of foreign policy experience, Reynolds can speak about Ukraine through the lens of how the conflict is impacting Iowans. He said the price of corn was down 47 cents before rebounding Monday, and noted the increasing price of gasoline.
“What happens in Ukraine doesn’t stay in Ukraine,” Grassley said. “Russia is affecting a lot of different segments of the economy, a lot of different people, and it’s hurting Iowa farmers, just as one example.”
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