Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to endorse DeSantis over Trump for president

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds plans to endorse Ron DeSantis for president on Monday, according to two people with knowledge of her plans, putting her in direct opposition against Donald Trump, who has opened a commanding polling lead among Republicans in her state and nationally.

Reynolds is popular in Iowa and, as the state’s most prominent Republican, could give DeSantis’s struggling campaign a boost in a state where his team believes the former president is more vulnerable. Reynolds will appear with DeSantis on Monday evening at a rally in Des Moines.

It is highly unusual for an Iowa governor to endorse a candidate in a contested race for the Republican nomination, particularly this close to the Iowa caucuses, which will be held Jan. 15, a little more than two months from now.

Iowa politicians often shepherd presidential hopefuls around the state and make introductions, but Reynolds has appeared frequently with DeSantis — at one point accompanying him to a rivalry football game attended by multiple GOP candidates.

Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly insulted Reynolds and criticized six-week abortion bans like the ones DeSantis and Reynolds helped pass in their states.

Reynolds’s decision to endorse is also politically risky in a contest where Trump has so far dominated and many Republicans in Iowa were skeptical that she would make such a move as DeSantis’s path to the nomination appears increasingly difficult. One rare instance when a sitting Iowa governor broke neutrality in the caucus was in 1996, when Gov. Terry Branstad endorsed Bob Dole.

The news of Reynolds’s decision comes before the third GOP debate on Wednesday in Miami and as DeSantis is fighting to hold onto second place in Iowa — where he’s investing heavily. An NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll released last week had former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley gaining steam and tying with DeSantis for runner-up at 16 percent. Trump remained far ahead, with 43 percent of likely caucusgoers favoring him.

The poll also found that Trump’s supporters were more enthusiastic and more settled on their choice than supporters of Haley or DeSantis.

While Democrats have removed Iowa from being their first state in the presidential nominating process, the state remains the first test of a candidate’s strength and momentum for Republicans.

Reynolds’s endorsement would also come as the Republican governor of another early-nominating state, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, plans to endorse a candidate aside from Trump. Sununu hit the trail with both DeSantis and Haley recently as he weighed a decision. He drew attention last week when Haley asked if he was ready to endorse her and he replied, “Getting closer every day.” But Sununu has long clashed openly with Trump, making his decision to endorse a Trump rival easier than Reynolds’s.

Underscoring his focus on Iowa, DeSantis is relocating many of his campaign staff to the state and last week went up on air there with his first TV ad. A super PAC backing Trump has also been posting attack ads in Iowa — a move that the DeSantis campaign celebrates as an indication that the Florida governor poses a threat. Trump’s team, meanwhile, is looking to land a knockout blow in the Hawkeye State.

Trump’s sizable lead in Iowa has persisted even as he has declined to show up to some events that presidential candidates traditionally frequent, defied a number of other Iowa campaign traditions and criticized Reynolds.

NBC News first reported Reynolds’s planned endorsement. The DeSantis campaign and Reynolds’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Shortly after news of the announcement broke, the Trump campaign issued a news release criticizing Reynolds, while Trump took to social media to slam the move.

“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,” Trump said on Truth Social. “Two extremely disloyal people getting together is, however, a very beautiful thing to watch. They can now remain loyal to each other because nobody else wants them!!!”

Trump and Reynolds also clashed after Trump said banning abortion after six weeks is “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake” in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in September. At the time, Reynolds rebuked Trump’s comments on abortion without naming him, writing on social media that “It’s never a ‘terrible thing’ to protect innocent life” and that she was proud of the six-week abortion ban passed in Iowa.

Trump did not participate in Reynolds’s “Fair-Side” chats with candidates during the Iowa State Fair this summer. Instead, he arrived at the fair by helicopter and bragged about the size of his crowds.

DeSantis’s campaign has always looked to Iowa as an early-nominating state potentially more favorable to him. Trump narrowly lost the Iowa caucuses in 2016 as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) benefited from superior on-the-ground organizing and strong support among evangelical Christian voters, who made up more than two-thirds of voters.

DeSantis is pursuing a similar strategy, courting Christian conservatives and vowing to visit all 99 counties in Iowa while a supportive super PAC, Never Back Down, bankrolls an extensive ground game. The importance of a strong showing in Iowa only grew as polling showed him losing ground nationally to Trump and falling behind Haley in New Hampshire and South Carolina, which vote early via primaries.

DeSantis advisers have argued the results in Iowa could change the trajectory of the race, puncturing Trump’s air of inevitability for the nomination — and have long believed Reynolds will be helpful. But recent winners of the Iowa caucuses, including Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, failed to win the GOP nomination. And some DeSantis supporters believe a strong night for Trump in Iowa will effectively end the Florida governor’s campaign.

DeSantis allies point to many similarities between him and Reynolds that they see as helpful in the Hawkeye State. Both governors narrowly beat their Democratic opponents in 2018 but cruised to reelection by roughly 20 points in 2022 and wielded big influence over Republican-led legislatures, signing similar bills on abortion and school choice and restricting classroom teachings on race, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Reynolds notably spoke at a DeSantis donor retreat in February 2023, months before DeSantis declared his candidacy. She joined DeSantis onstage for a Q&A during his Iowa debut that year, introduced him at his campaign launch outside Des Moines and sat down with DeSantis’s wife, Casey DeSantis, for the kickoff of a “Mamas for DeSantis” coalition.

DeSantis and Reynolds also both owe some of their political rise to Trump — though how much is up for debate. Reynolds was lieutenant governor in 2016 when Trump picked Gov. Terry Branstad to become ambassador to China, elevating her to Branstad’s job. And DeSantis won his 2018 primary against a far more established Republican while campaigning as a staunch Trump ally, even running a tongue-in-cheek ad that showed DeSantis reading Trump’s book to one of his children and telling another to “build the wall” with blocks.

Trump has noted that he held rallies for Reynolds and DeSantis in the run-up to their narrow victories in 2018 — though some argue Trump’s affiliation could have hurt them with moderates even as it energized other Republicans.

Maegan Vazquez and Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.

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