DES MOINES, Iowa ( Associated Press) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds launched her campaign for a second full term Wednesday night at a rally in Des Moines, touting her conservative agenda of cutting taxespersonal freedom from mandates and school choice.
Reynolds, a Republican who is leading in polls and has a huge fundraising advantage over her likely Democratic opponent, spoke about a week after she gave the GOP response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. The campaign kickoff rally was held in front of about 500 supporters at the state fairgrounds.
“As long as I am governor, Iowa will be a state where you can live your life freely, not have to wake up every morning worrying about the next thing the government will do to you, your business, or your children,” she said .
Reynolds is popular among Iowa Republicans and has received national attention for her early efforts to return children to schools at a time when the coronavirus was spreading quickly and push back against mandatory mask and vaccine proposals. Although a 2020 White House task force found that Iowa’s policies resulted in “many preventable deaths,” Reynolds policies were celebrated by Republicans within the state and nationally.
According to federal data, 9,228 Iowans have died from COVID. Iowa’s death rate of 290 deaths per 100,000 people ranks the state at 29th in the nation.
Reynolds said the next election is about liberty and rights and who will protect them.
“It is not about liberal versus conservative. It’s not about Republican versus Democrat. It’s about who is going to fight to keep Iowa and America free,” she said..
Conservative political strategist Nick Ryan, who has known Reynolds for about 18 years, said the COVID-19 pandemic helped define her as a leader.
“You know you’re going to get somebody who is going to always weigh on the side of freedom,” Ryan said. “She’s always going to weigh on the side of personal responsibility. She’s going to put parents first.”
Reynolds also supported a law that prohibits transgender females from participating in girls high school sports and women’s college athletics, has been an outspoken advocate of efforts to outlaw abortion and worked to cut taxes and limit gun laws.
Deidre DeJear, a small business owner and the likely Democratic nominee for governor, said Reynolds has put outside interest groups and national politics ahead of solving Iowa’s most pressing challenges.
“Her biggest accomplishments this session? Stripping away the rights of our most vulnerable students and passing a flat tax that will once again burden Iowa’s working families at the expense of tax breaks for the wealthy,” DeJear said.
Reynolds has said she has no plans to run for president or vice president. But her advisers include veteran Iowa Republican operative David Kochel, who was a campaign aide to Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush when they ran for president, and advertising consultant is Todd Harris, a senior adviser to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Marie Sanderson, a GOP strategist and former policy director for the Republican Governors Association, called Reynolds “relatable, gracious and a serious leader with a record of results.
A March 5 Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows Reynolds leading DeJear among likely voters, 51% to 43%. The poll interviewed 612 likely voters from Feb. 28 to March 2 and has a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Reynolds campaign had raised nearly $6 million as of January with about $4.8 million remaining. DeJear raised $280,000 with about $8,547 remaining to spend, according to recent campaign finance filings.
Reynolds became Iowa’s first female governor in May 2017 when President Donald Trump named Gov. Terry Branstad as the ambassador to China. Branstad said he chose her as running mate in 2010 after she served just a year in the Iowa Senate because he saw in her a leader with original ideas.
“Kim Reynolds has done a tremendous job, better than anybody else including myself,” he said as he arrived for the rally. “The state of Iowa is in the best financial condition it’s ever been in and she has had the courage to make tough decisions and lead the state through some challenging times.”
She was elected to her first full term in 2018 by beating Democrat Fred Hubbell by 2.7 percentage points.
Hubbell on Wednesday endorsed DeJear, saying “Iowa needs a governor who is ready to go to work and be a leader for all Iowans, instead of someone who caters only to her base supporters.”
Reynolds’ campaign has also announced events in Dubuque, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids on Friday.
Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report.