The first debate between Governor Kim Reynolds and Fred Hubbell was a contrast in styles: a combative and engaged incumbent and a poised, collected challenger. There were no knock-out blows and few major missteps, but one odd response from Reynolds may linger throughout the campaign.
That moment came about 45 minutes into the debate, when a moderator asked the governor who in her party she disagrees with the most. For a full ten seconds, Reynolds went quiet, put her head down and went deep into thought. It felt like even longer to those watching in the debate hall.
“We’ve been very united this past year, so I think the communication has been great,” she eventually said. “So, I’m very proud of that with the ability to work with the Legislature, both the House and the Senate. So, I’ve been very appreciative of the communication and the collaboration.”
Eventually, as Reynolds was talking, she got around to the answer that probably should have come up right at the start.
“But, you know, I’m not afraid to disagree with, even if it’s the President,” Reynolds said. “I’m not afraid to disagree with him. I appreciate what he’s done for our economy, but we disagreed in areas, especially when it came to NAFTA, for example. I didn’t believe that we should pull out of that agreement. I believe that it needed to be modernized, and it’s a 24-year-old trade agreement and that’s the approach we should take. And every time I get the opportunity to get in front of him, I would talk about that’s the direction that I think we should go.”
It was all an awkward moment, and a rather telling one.
Reynolds couldn’t immediately think of any major policy disagreements or conflicts she’s had with any fellow Republicans lately. That’s a dangerous thing when that party fully controls government because it means far-right legislation can fly through with little scrutiny, which is exactly what’s happened the past two years. Party unity has often come before sound policy.
Trump was the obvious and easy answer here for legitimate policy concerns, though it even took her a while to get to that. Perhaps she didn’t want to criticize Trump just 24 hours after appearing on stage with him at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs.
That’s too bad, since Trump and some Iowa Republicans have literally admitted that the President is using his base and farmers as collateral in his trade war brinksmanship. He thinks they’ll stick with him, so Trump doesn’t care as much about the pain and economic hardship that Iowa farmers are facing with falling crop prices. That’s something a governor of Iowa should stand up forcefully to. Reynolds has certainly pushed back from time to time, but then she’s also fully embraced him whenever was needed, thanking him repeatedly at the previous night’s rally.
There were other choices. Saying she often disagrees with Steve King’s rhetoric would have been an option, though Hubbell could’ve shot back that she made him her campaign co-chair. Bill Dix is gone now; that would’ve been an easy person to throw under the bus with no consequence. And Reynolds did speak out against Dix’s handling of the sexual harassment scandal, even if some thought she should’ve gone further.
The bigger problem here is that it has potential for a future TV ad. That’s the thing with these debates, either candidate can only accomplish so much with how many people are actually watching, but a gaffe can live on for weeks if replayed on the airwaves. If Hubbell wants to knock Reynolds as an overly-partisan ideologue who’s only representing the part of Iowa that agrees with her, he’s got a nice clip for that now.
Of course, Hubbell himself didn’t name any specific Democrats he disagreed with, but at least he didn’t have any long pauses in his response.
“I’ve said I want to be the governor for all Iowans,” he replied. “I’m going to go to work with anyone.”
If he wanted to, Hubbell could’ve tossed out Nate Boulton again for kicks, but just stuck with a very generic answer. It did, though, come off as a decently genuine pledge to bipartisanship, if for no other reason because it matched the calm, moderate image he projected throughout the evening.
by Pat Rynard