MEMO: Kim Reynolds’ Vulnerability Heading into General Election
To: Interested Parties
From: DGA Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson
Date: June 5, 2018
Re: Kim Reynolds’ Vulnerability Heading into General Election
As Iowa voters cast their ballots today in the state’s primary election, Governor Kim Reynolds finds herself in a vulnerable position that is sure to worsen as she heads into the general election campaign.
Reynolds, who has never run statewide at the top of the ticket before, is stuck in the unenviable position of defending former Governor Terry Branstad’s unpopular policies (without the benefit of his personal name recognition and popularity) in addition to her own rocky first 12 months as governor. Since taking the reins, Reynolds has pushed an aggressive and extreme right-wing agenda never before seen in Iowa history, presided over a disastrous budget that has harmed Iowa’s families and businesses, and stood by President Trump’s damaging policies that have specifically targeted Iowa’s economy.
The landscape in Iowa, national trends, her own mismanagement and extreme agenda, and a series of embarrassing scandals are coming together to make Reynolds one of the most vulnerable incumbent governors in 2018.
Kim Reynolds starts out the general election on shaky ground. Iowa pollster Ann Selzer told Bloomberg recently that “Reynolds, who took over from Terry Branstad when he became ambassador to China last year, is ‘untested,’ with ‘poll numbers that suggest she is far from secure.’”
In February, the Des Moines Register reported on her shaky poll numbers with the headline “Gov. Kim Reynolds is vulnerable in 2018.” When tested head to head against Democratic candidates, “Reynolds doesn’t garner more than 44 percent of the vote in any of the five matchups — a figure that underperforms both her 49 percent favorability rating and 47 percent job-approval rating among likely 2018 voters.”
And from February to April of this year, Reynolds’ approval rating plummeted a dramatic 8 points.
Iowa is also experiencing the surge in Democratic enthusiasm that has swept the nation during the Trump Presidency. Despite winning Iowa in 2016, the President’s approval has fallen sharply there and stands underwater by 9 points according to the latest Gallup poll.
A January poll from the Des Moines Register found Trump’s election prospects to be even worse than his -7 approval rating: “When asked how they could see themselves voting in 2020, just 26 percent of likely voters say they’ll definitely vote to re-elect Trump. Forty-eight percent say they would definitely vote for another candidate and another 20 percent say they’d consider someone else.”
Unlike other swing state Governors, Reynolds hasn’t hedged or walked back her support for Trump. She has fully embraced the President and cast her lot with him. Politico called her “The Governor of Trump’s America,” and in that story, she said of him, “I’m so grateful …to have an ally and friend in the White House.” Reynolds even declined to criticize Trump at all when asked if she has any frustrations with his administration.
Even when Trump’s agenda would particularly harm Iowans—as his rejection of the state’s stopgap health care plan and other dangerous policies have, Reynolds has failed to stand up to him and effectively advocate for her state. She has bragged about having unparalleled access to the Trump Administration, but as a column in the Des Moines Register recently noted, “What good is the access, though, if they’re not listening?”
Voter enthusiasm and momentum is clearly on the Democrats’ side in Iowa. In special elections this year and last, Democrats have swung several legislative districts by double digits (over 30 points) and notched wins in unlikely territory.
In her 12 months as governor, Kim Reynolds has become the face of Iowa’s budget disaster, which threatens to define her governorship. Reynolds’ mismanagement of the state has left everyday Iowa families hurting. She backed massive taxpayer giveaways for her special interest donors that caused a budget crisis and forced steep cuts to programs that Iowans of all stripes depend on.
Children and families:
- Schools have been funded at “dismal” levels thanks to the Reynolds Budget Crisis, and the state has been forced to eliminate programs like its third grade summer reading program.
- Thanks to the budget crisis, Reynolds’ Administration eliminated more than 800 jobs at the agency tasked with protecting Iowa kids from abuse—all while confirmed cases of child abuse in the state are skyrocketing.
Workers and Job Seekers:
- Budget cuts have forced the state’s public universities and community colleges to raise tuition by 35%, rescind financial aid from thousands of students, and scale back key job training programs.
- The Reynolds Administration eliminated nearly all staff visits to nursing homes to investigate complaints of abuse and neglect.
- The Des Moines Register reported “Not even death spares you from Iowa’s budget cuts,” as cuts to the medical examiner’s office have created an autopsy backlog and weeks-long delays for families’ to get the remains of their loved ones.
But instead of focusing on solving these very real problems, Reynolds has pursued an extreme ideological agenda to appease her special interest campaign backers. This year, she signed the most extreme anti-women’s health law in the nation. And the Des Moines Register editorial board called the state’s 2017 legislative session “an exercise in right-wing extremism.”
Reynolds has spent this spring bogged down by scandals and political problems of her own making. Among other missteps, she’s kept a notorious racist on as chair of her campaign, botched her response to sexual harassment within her administration, and even engaged in “brash nepotism.”
Reynolds has defended and kept on her notorious campaign co-chair, Congressman Steve King, despite his frequent extreme and racist comments. The Des Moines Register wrote in a recent editorial, “King’s very presence atop its masthead says something about a compromised campaign and its willingness to suffer the ugliest rhetoric possible in the name of party unity. At some point, King’s continued role in the campaign stands on its own as a tacit endorsement of his vile hate speech.”
But Steve King is far from the only scandal plaguing Reynolds campaign. For months now, she has come under fire for her mishandling of sexual harassment in her administration. After firing a long time friend and ally of hers for alleged harassment, Reynolds stonewalled and mislead the public, refusing to provide information about the situation. New developments in this story continue to emerge as the public gets a better picture of the toxic culture that flourished at the Iowa Finance Authority under Reynolds’ mismanagement.
Last month, the Quad-City Times editorial board highlighted this string of recent scandals in the Reynolds Administration, including her attempt to hide that she had appointed her own father to a government position. They wrote, “the perception that Reynolds runs a steady, drama-free shop has evaporated. And the unnecessary, self-inflicted wounds might accomplish what questions concerning tax cuts, privatized Medicaid and under-funded schools have so far failed to do. For the first time, Reynolds finds herself politically exposed. And she has no one to blame but herself.”
The Bottom Line
Reynolds is one of the most vulnerable governors nationwide in 2018, and Democrats feel confident about our odds heading into the general election. Iowans have had enough of Reynolds’ mismanagement and misplaced priorities and are ready for a leader who will put politics aside to actually get things done for the people of the state.