There was Reynolds in Sioux City with former President Donald Trump days before the November 8 election, a no doubt-here, safe-from-conjuring psychedelic political conjecture for the Osceola Republican Iowa girl of all Iowa girls.
“What I hate about Reynolds is that I want to like her even though I can’t stand her,” a prominent Democrat told me shortly after the election.
Reynolds dominated the crowd on that freezing, windy Sioux City fall night. Trump took note and tossed niceties like so many rolls of paper towels or red hats to Reynolds, basking in a warm hurricane with the sweet Trump’s applause. Trump even shared an anecdote about Reynolds’ outdoor husband, Kevin, and Donald Trump Jr. on a winter hunting trip.
In the summer of 2021, Reynolds took the stage at a Family Leader event in Des Moines with the bubbly Kristi Noem, a veteran public speaker and governor of neighboring South Dakota.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, an Old Testament conservative who is the OG of the burgeoning field of the GOP in the White House, delivered a keynote address in his reliable, serious way. His political steadfastness may be positive testament to the Old West dictum that if the hangman’s noose fails and you live, you are free. In the case of Pence, this is both reality and metaphor.
Reynolds carried the tag with Pence and Noem.
That summer, Reynolds attended a well-attended picnic for US Rep. Randy Feenstra at the Sioux Center with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, another presidential candidate.
Haley has shaky star power and a resume that includes foreign policy experience as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. But Reynolds’ connectivity and folksyness trumped the politically esteemed Haley, whose political hoes run much deeper.
The biggest mistake of my career as a political journalist? Underestimating Kim Reynolds — not what she was when the Republican burst onto the national scene in 2010 as an unprepared running mate for Governor Terry Branstad, a candidate with seemingly no worldview, but her potential, which proved to be pure rocket science.
So fair is fair.
Yes, in a column shortly after the 2010 election, I called Reynolds, then Lieutenant Governor, “the highest-paid intern in the state.” Now my plea is that she can win the Republican presidential nomination and the White House. That’s not to say she’s a good or bad president, just that she could be the supreme commander. Doubt it? Count me among the once bitten crowd.
Reynolds is a disciplined politician, a Solidarity Red state governor who knows how to keep up, a conservative with a record that ticks box after box after box with Republican voters. She can have the liberties and be sympathetic – with her base.
Of course, Reynolds has shown relentless loyalty to Trump. And she is as celebrated as she is scrutinized by the biggest names in American politics, an experience that may be more appealing to her than the presidency – and certainly easier.
But ambition is ambition. In presidential politics, candidates often only have one chance. This is Reynolds.
As Iowa retains the top spot in the Republican presidential nomination calendar, Reynolds could campaign aggressively in other early states and return to Iowa here for a final, winning push.
I am not alone in this assessment.
Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chairman and top political analyst, sees Iowa’s Republican governor as a strong potential candidate for the presidency.
“She should be in on this conversation along with a number of other governors who have served over the past four or eight years,” Steele told me in Ames in late 2021.
Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor and cable TV regular, said in an interview with Political Mercury that Reynolds brings a record and leadership style that could appeal to Republicans.
“Why not look at the governor?” asks Steele. “She reigned at a difficult time. Some of their choices might have been controversial or popular, but that’s all part of the soup. That’s how the country gets into its next groove.”