Republican gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad announced last week that he would send his running mate, State Senator Kim Reynolds, to campaign in the 25 counties where Bob Vander Plaats received more votes than Branstad in last month's primary. (You can download the official canvass by county here.) Branstad told reporters, "My plan is to send Kim Reynolds to every area where Bob Vander Plaats was strong so they get to see her and know her because I think to know her is to love her."
Over the holiday weekend, Reynolds walked some of the state's largest parades with Branstad in Urbandale and West Des Moines, but she also covered parades in Dallas County, where Vander Plaats almost matched Branstad's vote, and in Humboldt and Jasper counties, where Vander Plaats racked up sizable margins on June 8.
Reynolds has made a point to meet with Vander Plaats supporters when visiting counties Branstad carried, such as Henry and Union. Reynolds' political experience relates mostly to fiscal matters, and economic and budget issues are at the forefront in her stump speech, but she makes sure her activist audiences know that she's "pro-life" and for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Yesterday Reynolds spoke to Republicans in Carroll, the only county carried by State Representative Rod Roberts in the GOP gubernatorial primary. After the event she told journalist Douglas Burns that she believes abortion is "equivalent to murder." She then dodged several follow-up questions regarding what she views as an appropriate penalty for women who have abortions or doctors who perform them.
Interestingly, Reynolds told Burns that while she believes marriage should be for one man and one woman, she's not necessarily against sother forms of legal recognition for same-sex couples:
"We could take a look at civil unions," Reynolds said. "There are other options maybe that I would be in favor of looking at."
She added, "They can do civil unions. I think they can get to some of the same place that they want to look at."
I suspect that position is not popular with the social conservatives Reynolds is courting. A University of Iowa Hawkeye poll taken in the spring of 2009 found that about 37 percent of respondents statewide opposed any legal recognition for same-sex couples. Presumably that group includes the Republicans most energized against gay marriage.
Reynolds' position might resonate with many moderates, because the same Hawkeye poll from 2009 indicated that about 28 percent of Iowans oppose gay marriage but support civil unions. (About 26 percent of respondents in that poll expressed support for same-sex marriage rights.) That said, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Branstad campaign walk back her comments on civil unions if they are widely reported. A few months ago, Branstad suggested that he was open to legal protections for gay couples as well as gay adoption. His campaign spokesman quickly backpedaled.
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UPDATE: That didn't take long. Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart posted the Branstad campaign's reaction to Reynolds' comments on civil unions:
Sen. Reynolds' position on civil unions mirrors that of Gov. Branstad's. They do not favor state-sanctioned civil unions, but would not have the government step in to prevent private companies and entities from extending same-sex benefits if they so choose.
Vander Hart comments,
(Scratching my head)
That's not what she said. If she doesn't favor state-sanctioned civil unions why would she say she is open to them? There's a disconnect there.
While on one hand I'm glad she believes that Iowans deserve to vote on the definition of marriage, when she said "the definition of marriage is between one man and one woman from a religious aspect" she failed to acknowledge that the definition of marriage has civil and not just religious implications.
She pretty much articulated what Governor Chet Culver believes in the matter, or at least says he believes regarding the definition of marriage.
SECOND UPDATE: Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican blog sees the Branstad/Reynolds campaign as unprepared to deal with social issues:
The clarification offered by the Branstad campaign does little to clean up the situation. The question that Reynolds was asked had nothing to do with private companies that provide benefits to same sex couples. The question that she was asked was about the impact that gay marriages have had on Iowa, and her position on the matter. She is the one who brought up the term "civil unions."
When TheIowaRepublican.com reminded the Branstad campaign about Reynolds' exact statement, a spokesman responded by saying, "Kim used the reporter's phrase to describe what she was referring to, which is the ability of private entities to offer partnership benefits. She does not support state-sanctioned civil unions."
Reynolds' answer and the Branstad campaign's attempt to clarify the matter raise a number of questions about their understanding of the marriage issue in Iowa and the campaign's ability to properly prepare Reynolds for the number of questions that she will face while on the campaign trail.
This is the second time since the June 8th primary that the Branstad campaign has stubbed its toe on social issues. The first came when Planned Parenthood endorsed Governor Culver and the Branstad campaign failed to offer any comment to KCCI, central Iowa's highest rated TV news station.
THIRD UPDATE: Jason Hancock reviews more Iowa conservative reaction to Reynolds' comments.