DES MOINES, IOWA — Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to resume her conversations with the Republican presidential candidates on Tuesday as she sits down with Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson for “fair side chats” at the Iowa State Fair.
Reaching out to Iowans at the state fair in the crucial early voting state in the presidential nominating calendar has long been a must-stop for White House hopefuls of both major political parties, but this year the GOP candidates have another avenue to connect with voters as they are interviewed by the popular Republican governor who was convincingly reelected to a second term last November.
“I can hopefully draw a large crowd and maybe get more people in front of each one of the candidates, so they can hear their message and their vision and answer questions that are on Iowans’ minds. They’re very knowledgeable about the issues. They’re certainly not afraid to ask tough questions,” Reynolds said of Hawkeye State voters as she spoke with Fox News Digital at the state fair this past weekend.
The Republican presidential candidates can’t say enough nice things about Reynolds.
“The way she has balanced budgets, cut taxes, expanded educational choices, stood for the right to life, has really been an inspiration to people all across this state and all across the nation,” former Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News Digital.
Former U.N. ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who teamed up with the Iowa governor on Saturday for a “fair side chat,” called Reynolds “hands down” the best governor in the nation.
And another Republican presidential contender, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, also praised Reynolds, telling Fox News Digital that “Kim is terrific. She’s doing a fantastic job.”
All of the GOP White House hopefuls who are visiting the fair are sitting down with Reynolds and joining her to tour the fairgrounds and flip pork chops – all except former President Donald Trump.
Trump, the commanding front-runner for the GOP 2024 nomination as he makes his third straight presidential run, kept his distance from the governor as he briefly toured through the fairgrounds on Saturday. The former president earlier this summer, potentially irked that Reynolds was hosting other candidates as they stopped in Iowa, criticized the governor for staying neutral in the race for the GOP presidential nomination race.
“I opened up the Governor position for Kim Reynolds, & when she fell behind, I ENDORSED her, did big Rallies, & she won. Now, she wants to remain ‘NEUTRAL.’ I don’t invite her to events! DeSanctus down 45 points!” the former president wrote on social media last month.
In 2017, Trump nominated longtime Republican Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as U.S. ambassador to China. Reynolds – who was lieutenant governor at the time – succeeded Branstad as governor. The then-president endorsed Reynolds ahead of her narrow election in 2018 to a full term in office. Reynolds was easily reelected by 19 points last year.
Reynolds’ pledge to stay neutral in the presidential nomination race is in line with previous Iowa governors. Iowa’s all-Republican congressional delegation is also staying neutral as the large field of 2024 presidential contenders descends on their state.
The governor joined Trump in March in Davenport as the former president made his first stop in Iowa as a 2024 candidate. Reynolds did not join Trump when he returned to the state in early June and again this month.
Trump on Saturday, when asked why he wasn’t joining Reynolds, reiterated that “I have a very nice relationship with her. I got her elected. I endorsed her. I came and did a rally when she was very far behind.”
The former president’s rivals for the nomination blasted him for snubbing Reynolds.
“I think Donald Trump’s attacks on Kim Reynolds are totally out of bounds. I couldn’t disagree with it any more. And she’s done nothing but do a great job. She’s never done anything to him,” DeSantis told Fox News Digital on Saturday.
And a super PAC supporting DeSantis was running ads in Iowa that spotlighted Trump’s criticism of Reynolds.
“I welcome the opportunity to sit down with her to answer her questions at that gathering here at the Iowa State Fair, and frankly, I think anybody who skips that is missing out,” Pence told Fox News Digital.
And Haley said that “it’s [a] shame he’s not doing it” when asked about Trump.
Pointing to the criticism from Trump, Reynolds told Fox News Digital that “he’s going to do what he’s going to do, and I’m just not focused on that. I’m focused on – as I’ve said to his team and to every single presidential candidate: ‘I want you to come to Iowa. I want you to come often.’”
Reynolds said that by staying neutral in the Republican White House race, she brings “some value to the process.”
But she didn’t close the door to potentially making an endorsement ahead of the state’s Jan. 15 presidential caucuses.
“I may change my mind down the road,” she said in her interview. But Reynolds added that “right now it’s really important that I get them here, get them in front of Iowans and get them an opportunity to talk about their vision, why them and get them to answer tough questions.”
Aside from the controversy, Reynolds – who says she’s been attending the state fair since she was a child – is offering the presidential candidates tips on fair cuisine.
“I always tell them there’s a lot of options – try as many as you can,” Reynolds said. “Most of them are flipping pork, so I’m pretty confident most of them will try pork on a stick.”