Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds announced today via e-mail that she will not run for U.S. Senate in 2014. It’s a smart decision.
UPDATE: Added thoughts about other possible Republican candidates below.
O.Kay Henderson published the e-mail at her blog today. Governor Terry Branstad’s re-election campaign sent out the message signed by Reynolds, which referred to various Branstad administration accomplishments. The lieutenant governor all but confirmed that Branstad will seek a sixth term next year:
Governor Branstad and I still have a lot we want to accomplish on behalf you, the people of Iowa.
That’s why, after serious and thoughtful discussions with family, friends, supporters and constituents, I have decided to remain as Lieutenant Governor and will not seek a seat in the United States Senate.
I appreciate all the support, prayers and well-wishes you have given me as I have considered a run for U.S. Senate. I truly believe that my focus needs to remain on being Lieutenant Governor and working with Governor Branstad as we continue to move Iowa forward.
Although some Republican bloggers have predicted Reynolds will run for U.S. Senate, I have never believed she would be a strong candidate in a GOP primary. Hardly anyone knew who she was when Branstad chose her as his running mate halfway through her first term in the Iowa Senate. Although the governor has given her a lot of visibility, Reynolds doesn’t have any natural constituency in the Republican base, which she would need to win a statewide primary. Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican argued that Reynolds’ record in the Iowa Senate “should please most social conservatives,” but that wing won’t entirely trust her, because she once suggested that she supported civil unions for same-sex couples.
Branstad is not very popular with the Ron Paul or tea party crowds that have dominated Republican primaries in Iowa lately. Last year, Iowa Senate candidates endorsed by Branstad lost primaries in Senate district 6 and Senate district 36. The Republican Branstad favored in the Senate district 18 special election lost a district nominating convention in 2011. Similarly, a GOP district nominating convention in House district 52 rejected the candidate Branstad recruited last December for a special election.
Running for Senate and losing the primary would be a path to nowhere for Reynolds. There’s way more to staying in her current job. If Branstad is re-elected, Reynolds will have another four years to travel the state and raise her name recognition ahead of a run for governor in 2018. Alternatively, she could become governor sooner than that if Branstad had to step down for any reason.
UPDATE: Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register tweeted today, “The 2 names that have now risen to the top in buzz for U.S. Senate: IA Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, and IA Secretary of State Matt Schultz.”
Ernst won the special election to replace Reynolds in the Iowa Senate after Branstad was elected governor in 2010. She previously served as the auditor of Montgomery County in southwest Iowa. Ernst is highly regarded but has low name recognition statewide, and I’m not sure about her ability to raise money. On the plus side, she was just re-elected to a four-year term in 2012, so she wouldn’t have to give up her Iowa Senate seat to run for the U.S. Senate next year.
Schultz would be rolling the dice to go for the Senate seat instead of running for re-election in 2014. His voter ID obsession might be a decent hook for a statewide primary campaign, but if he loses the primary, he’s got nothing (he can’t be on the primary ballot for both offices next June). I’m not convinced Schultz’s record would stack up well against Bruce Braley. Seeking another term as secretary of state, he wouldn’t be challenged in the GOP primary. His likely general election opponent would be Brad Anderson, who managed Barack Obama’s 2012 general election campaign in Iowa.
SECOND UPDATE: Thomas Beaumont of the AP has more comments from Reynolds:
“I’m ready to step out. I’m just not ready to leave what I’m doing,” Reynolds told The Associated Press. “I’m not ready to walk away from the things I’ve not finished yet.” […]
A devout Branstad protege, Reynolds said she likes the role the governor has allowed her to assume, promoting science and technology education and leading trade efforts at home and abroad. She also said she prefers staying in closer touch with Iowans than a six-year Senate term would allow, though she stopped short of saying she sees herself seeking the governorship after Branstad.
“There is just a connection with what I’m doing right now. That was one of the things I had to consider when I was looking at the U.S. Senate: Can you be as effective as you can in a state role?” Reynolds said, quickly adding, “I don’t know what my future holds for sure.”
Beaumont mentioned that Representative Steve King told KSCJ radio in Sioux City on April 23, “When the decision is made, I will be the happiest guy about this whether it’s yes or no.” I don’t believe King is seriously considering a Senate race. If he were, he’d have ramped up his fundraising during the first quarter of 2013.
THIRD UPDATE: Speaking to Radio Iowa on April 25, Reynolds didn’t rule out running for governor someday. I would be shocked if she doesn’t run for governor in 2018.