The big news out of Iowa today is that Governor Kim Reynolds will endorse Ron DeSantis at a pre-debate rally in Des Moines on Monday.
It is big news because typically the governor of Iowa does not endorse in the GOP primary race. As late as the end of October, Reynolds was ruling out endorsing a candidate before the Iowa caucuses.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley endorsed his good friend, U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, in 1988 and 1996, and former Gov. Terry Branstad encouraged Iowans to caucus for anyone but U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016.
But it’s far more common for Iowa’s high-profile political figures to take a hands-off approach. Grassley and others have pledged to remain neutral this cycle.
Reynolds, too, had initially ruled out endorsing anyone ahead of the Iowa Caucuses, saying she preferred to welcome the full slate of candidates into the state. But, more recently, she opened the door to the possibility.
The governor will endorse DeSantis Monday and then on Tuesday, she will do a meet-and-greet in Davenport with DeSantis. She will fly to Miami to help fundraise for the DeSantis campaign around Wednesday’s RNC debate.
This a big get for any of the Republicans running in the primary race. It’s been clear for a while that Reynolds prefers DeSantis but it wasn’t expected that she would make a formal endorsement. She and DeSantis seem to have a mutual admiration society going on as fellow governors. DeSantis is very complimentary of how she governs Iowa. Reynolds is very popular in Iowa and her endorsement will help DeSantis.
Is this enough to help the DeSantis campaign to catch fire in Iowa? That remains to be seen. Trump is up by 27 points in Iowa, according to the latest NBC/DMR poll (10/22-10/16). The Real Clear Politics aggregate has Trump up 31.5 points.
It may not catapult DeSantis to first place right away but it does help him in the short term in Iowa. This is bad news for Nikki Haley, who is tied with DeSantis for second place in some polls, and it is even worse for Tim Scott who has made Iowa his Hail Mary move. Scott has qualified for the RNC debate on Wednesday night but was slow to do so. He has plenty of money in his campaign coffers but struggles to get out of single-digit numbers. Vivek Ramaswamy rented an apartment in Des Moines as he concentrates on Iowa, too. His favorable numbers have taken a hit recently as voters become more familiar with him.
This endorsement will not sit well with Trump. He already accuses Reynolds of being disloyal because she has not endorsed him. To be clear, Reynolds was a strong ally of Trump and his policies during his presidency. She chose not to support his third run for president, which has brought several ugly posts about her by Trump on Truth Social.
Reynolds has suggested that she is too compelled by big national issues like inflation and border security to sit out an endorsement in the primary. “It’s just too important,” she said. “This next election is too important.”
This endorsement will be a timely one. During a rally in Florida on Saturday, five Florida legislators who endorsed DeSantis switched endorsements to Trump. His campaign made a big deal over that and brought up many who are endorsing him up on the stage.
The chair of the Iowa Republican Party says the endorsement by Reynolds is a big one.
“I would say with a great deal of confidence that Kim Reynolds is the only person in the state of Iowa that could be a king or a queenmaker,” Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann previously told the Register. “There’s a lot of people who like to cast themselves as kingmaker because it helps them to push their organizations, but she’s the only one that could be.”
We’ll see what happens in Iowa. The DeSantis campaign has focused on the state all along. DeSantis is doing the “full Grassley”, visiting each of the state’s 99 counties. His ground game is reported to be strong in Iowa. Now it’s up to him to perform in the debate this week and see if the endorsement by Reynolds moves the needle for him.