Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds endorses Ron DeSantis for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination

By: - November 6, 2023 9:12 pm

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds appeared on stage with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who she officially endorsed for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds pledged her “full support” to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a campaign rally Monday, officially endorsing his bid to become the 2024 Republican presidential nominee.

“I’m here to tell you, without a doubt, that Ron DeSantis is the person that we need leading this country,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds told an enthusiastic crowd of more than 500 at the River Center in Des Moines that there is “just too much at stake” for her to not weigh in on the Republican presidential contest — and that DeSantis is the candidate with the track record of conservative victories that can win Republicans the White House.

The two Republican governors share similar political histories, winning their first elections in 2018 and winning reelection by a wide margin in 2022. While many other states saw some Democratic victories in the 2022 midterm elections, both Florida and Iowa — two states thought of as traditionally purple — overwhelmingly elected Republicans.

This track record shows that DeSantis’ politics is aligned with Iowans, Reynolds said — and shows that DeSantis can win against President Joe Biden. She said the country is “unrecognizable” under the Biden administration, pointing to issues of inflation, border security and international conflicts like the the war between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

“We’re in trouble, but we are resilient,” Reynolds said. “We can turn this country around. But if we don’t get this next election right, if we don’t choose right, we are not going to get this country back.”

The right choice, she said, is DeSantis.

The Florida Republican called on Iowans to “follow Gov. Reynolds’ lead” and support him at the Jan. 15, 2024 Iowa Republican caucuses. The audience cheered when he described the laws both he and Reynolds signed as governors, including banning most abortions after six weeks, prohibiting gender-affirming health care for minors, and reopening businesses and schools earlier than other states during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You need a president that’s gonna fight for you,” DeSantis said. “… You can’t be like some of these Republicans, many of them in Washington, D.C., that refuse to fight for our values. Any time they have an opportunity to surrender to the media, the left or the Democrats, they simply bend the knee. We elect them to fight for us, and they refuse to come through. But in Florida, and what Kim’s done here in Iowa, tells a different story.”

Energy was high at the rally — but recent polling shows DeSantis faces an uphill battle to win the Iowa GOP caucuses and the presidential nomination. Former President Donald Trump leads the race by a double-digit margin in Iowa and national polls, and no other Republican candidates have yet been able to unseat him as frontrunner.

Trump attacked Reynolds on social media Sunday, when news of her endorsement was first reported. He criticized both Reynolds and DeSantis for “disloyalty,” as he endorsed both of their gubernatorial reelection campaigns in 2022. The Iowa governor’s endorsement on DeSantis “will be the end of her political career,” he said.

“They can now remain loyal to each other because nobody else wants them!!!” Trump wrote in a Truth Social post.

Reynolds criticized Trump at the Monday event for letting former Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci lead the national COVID-19 response. While she and DeSantis largely avoided speaking about Trump, they both emphasized that Republicans need to rally around a candidate who can win — referencing Trump’s loss to Biden in 2020, an election he has falsely claimed was “rigged.”

When asked about Trump in an interview with the Des Moines Register, Reynolds said, “I don’t think he can win.”

Trump has repeatedly criticized Reynolds during the 2024 campaign season for not endorsing him. Reynolds told the Des Moines crowd that she chose to remain neutral through most of the 2024 Republican presidential nominating process to make sure all presidential candidates felt welcome to campaign in Iowa, the host of the first-in-the-nation GOP caucuses.

“As governor, I felt like it was my responsibility to provide all of the candidates a platform to share their message and vision with Iowans and help them put their best foot forward,” she said. “But I also believe that as a mom, and as a grandma, and as an American, I could not and cannot sit on the sidelines any longer.”

In a Monday night post on Truth Social, Trump asked “why would anybody endorse Ron DeSanctimonious, who is like a wounded bird falling from the sky?”

“Well, the “Nation’s most unpopular governor,” Kim Reynolds of Iowa, just endorsed him,” Trump wrote. “What’s that all about?”

Defeating Trump is the largest hurdle for DeSantis’ campaign to become the GOP nominee, but he is also facing rising competition for his position as the most viable Trump alternative. DeSantis, who ranked second place in most national and early state polls, tied with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at 16% in the most recent Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Haley also moved ahead of him in recent New Hampshire and South Carolina polls.

Rally attendee Lori Tiangco, a Des Moines resident planning to support DeSantis on caucus night, said she believed the Florida governor can win Iowa because he is best aligned with Iowa Republicans’ values. In addition to Reynolds’ support, 41 GOP state lawmakers have endorsed DeSantis, including Iowa Senate President Amy Sinclair and House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, who also spoke at the Des Moines event.

Tiangco said she has been to multiple DeSantis events in the Des Moines area — and that at each event, she sees more people and more enthusiasm.

“I think more people will get behind him and support him,” Tiangco said. “The more that we can get united as a party, the Republican Party, I think that will be the only way we get Biden out of there and get our country back into a positive spot.”

In addition to the Monday event, Reynolds will attend a meet-and-greet with DeSantis in Davenport Tuesday and travel with him to Florida Wednesday to fundraise for his presidential campaign.

The Iowa governor also thanked Casey DeSantis, the candidate’s wife, for her support after her husband, Kevin Reynolds, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Casey DeSantis, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, came to visit the Reynolds family in October to offer her support, Reynolds said.

“Now this is a mom of three, whose husband is running for president and leading a state, and she still took the time to come see us,” Reynolds said. “Casey, I want you to know how much that meant to both of us. We’re both so truly grateful for your friendship and your prayers.”

Casey DeSantis introduced Reynolds at the event. Reynolds could have easily chosen to stay out of the 2024 Republican presidential race, she said, but that “as you all well know that is not Governor Kim Reynolds.”

“Few courageous, selfless leaders stick their necks out there and they will fight for what is right, even when it may not be politically convenient,” Casey DeSantis said. “Courageous leaders ignore threats of retaliation and dismiss false promises. They put themselves in the arena, sometimes alone, and they fight. They fight when it matters.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.