Meet the newest Republican rising star

Earlier this week, Republicans announced that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds would deliver the official GOP response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday. The pick makes sense on its face: A Republican woman from the middle of the country draws a sharp contrast visual contrast with Biden addressing a joint session of Congress.

But in search of more information about Reynolds, I reached out to Brianne Pfannenstiel, the chief politics reporter at the Des Moines Register. Our conversation — conducted via email and lightly edited for flow — is below.
Cillizza: Why Reynolds? What appealed to national Republicans about her?
    Pfannenstiel: I think Republicans are looking to bring some of the issues they’re talking about on high level — inflation, critical race theory, crime, the pandemic — home for people on a local level. Governors are really well suited for those types of conversations, and Gov. Reynolds in particular has been able to work with the Republican-controlled Legislature in Iowa to pass laws targeted to those issues.
      She can talk about returning kids to the classroom, ending pandemic unemployment benefits and banning mask mandates because she’s done those things. That’s a big draw for Republicans who are trying to draw a real contrast with President Biden’s agenda.
        Cillizza: How is her standing in Iowa at the moment? Where is she in her term?
        Pfannenstiel: Reynolds is nearing the end of her first full term, and we’re expecting her to formally launch her re-election campaign any day now. She’ll go into that campaign with a really strong standing — she’s dramatically outraised her top opponent and her polling numbers are solid. She’s got a 51% approval rating overall and 52% approval on her handling of the pandemic. Republicans here tell me they really feel like she’s come into her own over the past two years as she’s had to step up and manage the state’s pandemic response, despite intense pushback from Democrats.
          Cillizza: What’s her speaking style/approach? Has she ever given a speech like this before?
          Pfannenstiel: This will be the biggest speech we’ve seen Reynolds give during her career, by far. I don’t think I would describe her as a natural, but she’s become a much more practiced speaker over her first term and can deliver when it counts.
          She can be quite charismatic in person and really excels in retail-style politics, so the challenge will be to convey that through the camera so the audience at home feels it. Don’t expect her to pull any punches, but I imagine she’ll also bring a healthy dose of “Iowa nice” and some folksy charm to her speech.
          Cillizza: Will this speech make her a player nationally? Maybe in the 2024 veepstakes?
          Pfannenstiel: We’ll see how she’s received, right? All the elements are there, but she’ll have to bring it all together and deliver. This is a chance for her to prove she can really be an asset on the national stage and win over people who don’t yet know anything about her. Republican presidential contenders will be courting her regardless as they start to move into Iowa ahead of the 2024 caucuses. A solid speech Tuesday would certainly give them more to talk about when they do.
          Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “The most important thing for Americans to know about Kim Reynolds is __________.” Now, explain.
          Pfannenstiel: “… she is deeply polarizing in Iowa.”
            Some of Iowa’s best-known politicians — Democratic US Sen. Tom Harkin, Republican US Sen. Chuck Grassley and Republican Gov. Terry Branstad — were known for drawing support from the opposing party. That’s not true for Reynolds. She’s very popular among Iowa Republicans, with an 88% approval rating, according to the Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll. (Grassley was sitting at 71% for comparison.)
            So that tells you something about how she’s been able to appeal to the party’s solidly red, solidly Trump base. But just 10% of Democrats approve of the job she’s doing.

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