DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — After seven months of hosting Republican presidential candidates in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds said it “feels good to get in the game” with her endorsement of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
But the popular Iowa governor declined to say whether other candidates should concede and throw their support behind him as well, even as she acknowledged that a wider field could advantage former President Donald Trump.
“At some point, if we don’t narrow the field, it’s going to be hard to … maybe, you know, that helps Trump,” Reynolds said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But I think that is for them to decide.”
In making the endorsement earlier this week, Reynolds broke with a longstanding tradition of Iowa governors staying neutral in their party’s presidential contests, the first in the GOP nomination calendar.
With the Jan. 15 caucuses fast approaching, the DeSantis campaign hopes the endorsement will fuel momentum for the candidate, once seen as the most plausible Republican alternative to Trump but now locked in second place with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. DeSantis has so far failed to close the polling gap with Trump or set himself apart as the clear choice for voters who either didn’t like Trump or were uneasy about the former president’s prospects in November 2024.
Still, Reynolds said DeSantis is best poised for victory in the general election, a race she doesn’t think Trump can win without attracting voters beyond his base. DeSantis “won in demographics that Republicans have never really won in Florida,” she said.
Reynolds and DeSantis often commend each other for their robust wins in last year’s midterm elections, when Republicans struggled elsewhere, and their parallel policy accomplishments in formerly purple states.
Trump continues to dominate polls of Republican voters in states that vote early in the nomination process, Iowa included, but Reynolds predicted “a lot of movement” over the next two months. She cited the Des Moines Register/ NBC News/Mediacom late October poll that showed DeSantis identified as a frequent second choice or candidate that voters were “actively considering.”
“I didn’t see that same opportunity with some of the other candidates when you looked at where they ranked for second choice,” Reynolds said. “I thought Ron was in a really good place for that.”
Long before the formal endorsement Monday, Trump had accused Reynolds of disloyalty for her cozy relationship with DeSantis and tried to take credit for her winning the governorship.
“If and when Kim Reynolds of Iowa endorses Ron DeSanctimonious, who is absolutely dying in the polls both in Iowa and Nationwide, it will be the end of her political career in that MAGA would never support her again, just as MAGA will never support DeSanctimonious again,” he wrote in a social media post Sunday after reports of her endorsement surfaced.
Reynolds initially promised that she would remain neutral in the race and she joined most candidates for campaign events throughout the spring and summer, though her close relationship with DeSantis and his family was on display in regular appearances they made together.
She changed her mind because “there’s just too much at stake,” she said, though it wasn’t a decision she made lightly, adding that she called Haley, who she said was “a good friend,” to let her know.
While she said it’s not her place to suggest others drop out of the race, Reynolds said Iowa’s role in the nominating process is to start to winnow the field, which will happen naturally.
“It’s not really about always picking the winner,” she said, “but it’s about helping narrow the field.”