Joni Ernst, Kim Reynolds speaking spots highlight Iowa GOP unity as Trump gets second nomination

Brianne Pfannenstiel
Des Moines Register

Iowa Republicans, who were among the first to embrace Donald Trump in 2016, are getting prime-time platforms during the 2020 convention celebrating his nomination for a second term.

Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke late Tuesday and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is slated to appear Wednesday during TV broadcasts expected to draw millions of viewers from around the United States.

More:Speaking at RNC, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says Trump had Iowans' backs during derecho recovery

“Iowa, we’re one of his favorites,” Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said of Trump, who on Monday formally accepted his party’s nomination for president.

Kaufmann and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley made headlines in January of 2016, just ahead of that year’s Republican caucuses, for standing with Trump and promising to enthusiastically back him should he become the nominee. Their backing was a stamp of approval from the Republican establishment at a time when it was still far from certain that Trump could bring the party together.

This year, Iowa’s Republicans say they’re more united than ever.

“Remember 2012 when we had the (Mitt) Romney situation and Ron Paul? There was no cohesion there,” said Iowa’s Republican National Committeewoman Tamara Scott. “Even in 2016, Trump was new and not everyone was on board yet. There is a fire on board behind this Trump train, and we are moving forward. And I have not seen this type of enthusiasm in quite some time.”

Since his 2016 victory, the president and his top surrogates have made repeated trips to Iowa. Vice President Mike Pence has visited Iowa four times this year alone. And Trump was in the state last week to discuss recovery efforts after 140-mile-an-hour winds ravaged Cedar Rapids and much of eastern Iowa.

It’s evidence that the president listens to Iowa’s elected officials. Reynolds’ and Ernst’s presence at the convention shows that Iowans will have a say in his administration, Grassley said.

“Just their presence speaks a great deal about their leadership, about breaking glass ceilings, about what President Trump thinks of those two people — because they wouldn't be there without Trump's approval — and it tells about how Iowa's going to have a voice in the next four years of the Trump administration,” Grassley said. “So, we ought to be very proud of them.”

More:Chuck Grassley will skip the Republican National Convention for the first time in 40 years, citing coronavirus

Although recent polling suggests the president this year will face a tougher fight than he did in 2016 — both in Iowa and across the country — Kaufmann said he sees no downsides to Reynolds and Ernst attaching their brands to his.

“Our governor and our United States senator are more equipped to help everyday Iowans if they are attached to this president,” he said. “... If we have a governor and a United States Senator that do not have a close trusting relationship with Donald Trump, then shame on them.”

More:Iowa is now a 2020 battleground, Democrats and Republicans agree; presidential and U.S. Senate races are tight

Reynolds is not up for reelection this year, but Ernst is facing a tight contest against Democrat Theresa Greenfield. A June Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed Ernst trailing Greenfield by 3 percentage points, which falls within the poll’s margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

The senator’s job approval rating among all Iowans began to drop earlier this year, according to Register polling, falling to 47% in March from 57% a year before. The June poll showed that rating had changed little, hovering at 49%. 

Trump’s approval rating also has fallen from 50% in March to 45% in June, according to Register polling

Kaufmann and five other Iowans are in Charlotte, N.C., this week for the convention — a four-day affair that is being conducted with a mix of in-person and virtual elements.

Each state was allowed to send six people to participate in in-person meetings and to cast their state’s votes in favor of the president. Each evening, the Republican National Convention will air about two hours’ worth of programming, including in Charlotte and remote speeches from politicians like Reynolds and Ernst.

On the first day of the convention Monday afternoon, Iowa City entrepreneur and Republican donor Anthony Marlowe cast the delegation’s 40 votes in favor of Trump.

"The great state of Iowa fully sends, full send, unanimously, all of our folks to re-nominate you to lead our country, America, under God, for four more years," he said. "Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, you're rehired!"

Marlowe, the CEO of business support company MCI, credited Trump's "explosive economic policies" to help his business grow its number of employees from 400 to more than 4,000 since Election Day 2016.

"In short, sir, you're crushing it," he said.

Even with the mix of in-person events, it's a very different feel than past conventions, said Iowa delegate and state central committee member David Barker.

“Our committee meetings are in enormous rooms with not a lot of people in them separated by quite a bit (of space), and hand sanitizer everywhere, masks being handed out to people — it's not fun, but it's a real commitment to safety,” he said.

It stands in contrast with Democrats, who held their convention remotely last week. Vice President Joe Biden accepted the party's nomination virtually from Delaware. 

The two styles are reflected in both campaigns' actions in Iowa as they seek to woo voters ahead of the election. The Biden campaign is operating almost entirely online and through remote operations as the coronavirus continues to spread. The Trump campaign has been integrating more in-person door-knocking and traditional campaign events. 

More:Campaigning in COVID: How Trump, Biden are taking different paths to win over Iowa voters

"You can campaign and go door to door safely during COVID," Kaufmann said in criticizing the Democrats' approach. "It's easy to distance yourself six to eight feet. It's easy to put your materials in a paper bag or in a plastic bag. And so the excuse for not campaigning does not hold water. ... If it matters at all that our leaders take it to the people and that our leaders will answer questions to (the media) — if that matters at all, then this should be the Republicans walking away with it."

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

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