"Here in this field of dreams that we call home, anything is possible," Governor Kim Reynolds declares near the end of her last television commercial before the November election.
Although the ad is superficially upbeat, its script and carefully chosen images convey an exclusionary message. To Reynolds, the place "we call home" is for people like herself: straight, white Christians from rural areas.
It's another divisive move for a candidate who already spent heavily to bring racist tropes to Iowans' tv screens.
Reynolds is on track to spend more than $4 million on television commercials and placed a large statewide buy for this 60-second spot, "The Best is Yet to Come."
"ROOTED IN FAITH"
Dressed casually and wearing a cross necklace, Reynolds opens the ad by speaking to the camera with a cornfield in the background: "Iowa is a home like no other."
"A land rooted in faith," the governor's voice continues, as a large cross and church steeple appear on screen.
Reynolds has used her office to promote Christianity before. Now she's reminding a mass audience that at least in her mind, Iowa is a Christian state.
But about 20 percent of Iowa adults—roughly half a million people—have no religious affiliation, according to the Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape Study. Another 1 to 2 percent (including this author) adhere to non-Christian faiths. Are we not "rooted" here?
PUNCHING DOWN ON TRANS KIDS
About twelve seconds into the ad, the view shifts back to Reynolds, speaking to the camera: "Here in Iowa, we still know right from wrong, boys from girls, and liberty from tyranny."
Reynolds couldn't contain her joy the day she signed a law banning transgender girls from high school and college sports teams. And despite having every possible advantage going into next week's election, she couldn't resist putting big money behind another shot at transgender kids.
Fox News celebrated the governor's "six-figure ad buy saying Iowans still know 'boys from girls.'" Reynolds has been using the same line for laughs and applause at Republican campaign events. The message to trans Iowans is unmistakable: you don't belong here, and we'll keep putting you in your place.
Courtney Reyes, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa Action, said in a written statement,
Yet again Governor Reynolds is taking the opportunity to punch down on a marginalized group of Iowans for political gain. These aren’t even dog whistles anymore, they’re just blatant transphobia. The fact that this is her closing message for her re-election campaign speaks volumes about her priorities for the next legislative session.
Reynolds loves to brag about how much time she spends meeting with Iowans around the state. But Reyes pointed out that the governor won't face those she's harmed through discriminatory policies.
The Governor doesn’t understand that transgender people are real Iowans that hold many of the same values she lists in the ad because she has repeatedly refused to meet with transgender Iowans at every juncture. We have requested year after year through every available channel that Governor Reynolds meet with impacted Iowans and their families to hear their concerns but were ignored or rebuffed at every turn.
Transgender Iowans believe in faith, freedom, and hard work. They want their own field of dreams. Unfortunately, Governor Reynolds has banned them from playing on it, and is now working on refusing them admission entirely.
Although this commercial is less obviously racist than an earlier Reynolds campaign ad, its imagery suggests that white people occupy authentically Iowan spaces.
Near the beginning, as Reynolds lauds "freedom, and hard work," a rural landscape equates hard work with farming, an overwhelmingly white occupation in Iowa.
When Reynolds goes on to say "...with fields of dreams that still come true," the viewer sees a Little League baseball team on the field. Again, no Black people in sight.
Alluding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reynolds asserts, "When the world shut down, we stayed open and thrived." Not really: the governor's proclamations kept Iowa's schools closed from mid-March to late August 2020, and shut down many kinds of businesses for months.
But in this context, I was more interested in the visual that accompanied "we stayed open and thrived": a classroom full of children who appear to be white.
Many Iowa schools—even in rural districts—have lots of students from communities of color. You'd never guess that from the governor's ad.
Putting a positive spin on her efforts to cut unemployment benefits, Reynolds boasted, "Instead of paying people to sit at home, we put people to work." The viewer sees a white woman.
As Reynolds talks about "record low unemployment, tax cuts, and so much more," the viewer sees an aerial shot of downtown Des Moines, followed by closer shots of happy families, who appear to be white.
Back to a smiling Reynolds: "Here in Iowa, we may get up early, but we're not woke." The viewer then sees more white people in what looks like a small-town parade as Reynolds adds, "We love our country, our military, and law enforcement."
Black Iowans are invisible in this commercial. But "woke" is now a favorite Republican way to refer negatively to Black people, or sometimes to political progressives. (In this piece for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund website, Ishena Robinson explained how "woke" began as "Black vernacular" but was transformed into "anti-Black pejorative.")
Notice how Reynolds equates "not woke" (that is, not Black and not liberal) with loving our country, military, and law enforcement. The viewer sees no people of color in uniform. The images may reinforce the idea that the governor's political adversaries don't love our country.
On a related note: a separate tv ad the Reynolds campaign had in heavy rotation last month accused Democratic nominee Deidre DeJear of "insulting law enforcement" by refusing to stand and applaud at one point during the governor's Condition of the State address to lawmakers.
"BECAUSE OF WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE STAND FOR..."
As the governor's closing spot winds down, we see footage of Reynolds (wearing an "Iowa strong" t-shirt and a cross around her neck) interacting with mostly white Iowans at the state fair. Her voice continues: "Because of who we are and what we stand for, Iowa has always been America at its best."
The visual moves from a small-town main street to an aerial view of downtown Cedar Rapids to an old-fashioned farm scene as Reynolds says, "America at its best."
Again, a white rural space represents peak Iowa.
Diversity isn't "who we are and what we stand for." The viewer gets only brief glimpses of Iowa's large cities—filmed from the air, with a focus on roads and buildings, not people.
"Here in this field of dreams that we call home, anything is possible," the governor says in the final seconds. "And the best is yet to come."
Not for marginalized Iowans, I'm afraid.
A fundraising email from DeJear's campaign slammed the "heinous, transphobic TV ad" that "targets our most vulnerable children," adding that Reynolds' extremism is "sick" and "vile."
DeJear also denounced the ad in social media posts. This tweet summed it up by describing the governor's vision as "a divided, unaccepting home to those who only look like her, think like her, and vote like her."
Casual viewers might not absorb the commercial as an attack on Iowans outside the straight white Christian majority, though. The background music is uplifting, and you have to admit: Kim Reynolds knows how to deliver even the cruelest blows with a big smile.