DES MOINES — A little more than three months out from Election Day, the early measurables suggest Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s Republican governor, is a heavy favorite to earn another four-year term as the state’s chief executive.
Reynolds has dominated the campaign’s fundraising efforts, and early polling suggests she is overwhelmingly the choice of voters. Four top national elections forecasters all rate Iowa’s gubernatorial race in their strongest category for a Reynolds win.
Deidre DeJear, the Des Moines businesswoman and the Democratic challenger, has lagged far behind Reynolds in fundraising and polling. DeJear has been attempting to make up that difference on the ground by hosting public campaign events across the state.
With holding a comfortable lead in the polls while running for re-election in a state that has a low opinion of the Democratic President Joe Biden’s job performance, Reynolds appears satisfied – at least early in the campaign – to focus her criticism on Biden and congressional Democrats rather than on her opponent, DeJear.
Reynolds frequently blasts Biden and Democrats in Congress in her media appearances. She rarely mentions DeJear.
“With Gov. Reynolds having that lead, she doesn’t necessarily have to talk about issues. The challenge for DeJear will be to bring the issues to the governor,” said Donna Hoffman, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa. “Certainly Gov. Reynolds can try to nationalize this election because it’s in her best interest to do that – run against Joe Biden, run against Joe Biden’s policy, tie Deidre DeJear to Joe Biden.”
Reynolds was chosen by national Republicans to deliver the party’s response to Biden’s State of the Union address in January.
Reynolds’ campaign declined to comment for this story.
At a campaign event last week in Cedar Rapids, DeJear said she is focused on reaching out to Iowans.
“I don’t necessarily need the governor to engage me. We all know that I am the governor’s opponent, not President Joe Biden,” DeJear said.
“And it’s clear to me more now than anything – especially as consistently that she has mentioned his name – that her perspective or focus is not on Iowa. Her focus is on something else. And we need leadership in the state to focus on us.
“Who needs my attention? Iowans. Iowans need my attention. Iowans need the attention of their governor. So if she says my name or not, it’s not the end of the world. What’s more important is that we connect with the voter. … That’s who I’m focused on.”
DeJear said she plans to travel to all 99 Iowa counties – a practice made famous by longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley – to reach voters in all corners of the state and to continue to raise money for the campaign.
And DeJear said the early poll results do not concern her. Over the past week, the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Poll – considered by many to be the gold standard in Iowa politics – showed Reynolds with a 17-point lead, and a poll commissioned by Iowans for Tax Relief Foundation showed Reynolds with a 15-point lead.
Rick Stewart, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, was at 5% in the Iowa Poll.
“We knew that this was going to be a hard race,” DeJear said. “But where we are right now is it’s really about digging deep and working our plans, and we’ll see the fruits of our labor.”
Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa political science professor, said there still is time for DeJear to chip away at Reynolds’ lead because many voters are not yet tuned into the 2022 election campaigns, and because many voters have not yet become familiar enough with DeJear to form an opinion about her.
“Having said all that, yeah, a 17-point lead is pretty big,” Hagle said.
Hagle and UNI’s Hoffman said Reynolds came into the campaign with at least two key foundational advantages – Iowans historically like to vote for their incumbents, regardless of political party; and Biden’s low job approval numbers nationally and in Iowa could make it hard for Democratic candidates to win here, especially statewide.
Most national polling aggregators show Biden’s average approval rating in the 30s and disapproval rating in the upper 50s.
“Even though technically he’s not on the ballot, everybody knows that, effectively, (a midterm election) is a report card on how the president’s doing in the first two years of the administration,” Hagle said. “And for the Biden administration, it’s not looking too good.
“And so that’s what allows Republicans to focus their attention perhaps on him and what’s going on there, rather than necessarily your opponent.”
The general election will be Nov. 8. In Iowa, early voting will start on Oct. 19.
Gazette reporter Marissa Payne contributed to this story.
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