By Christopher W. Larimer, University of Northern Iowa Professor of Political Science.
Looking ahead to the 2022 gubernatorial race, several quantitative factors will be critical, including the lasting economic effects of the pandemic, the state’s fiscal condition, and the strength of the Democratic challenger. However, there is also an important qualitative element to consider: Iowans’ level of comfort with Governor Reynolds.
In my own research on the longevity of recent Iowa governors, I found evidence to support both quantitative and qualitative factors as keys to gubernatorial success. On the latter, what seemed to distinguish more popular governors was their ability to connect with Iowans through their accessibility.
For example, while Governors Branstad and Vilsack certainly had very different approaches to governing and campaigning, both made a concerted effort to be visible and accessible. As one source told me during my research, the perception of Governor Branstad was that he was at “every meeting of two or more people.” Governor Ray was also known for his personal connection with voters, notably the letters he would write to constituents. All three of these governors faced difficult political or economic times (e.g. Ray in 1974; Branstad in 1986; Vilsack in 2002), but all three managed to be reelected.
Back to Governor Reynolds, there is a reason her office announced this week that she once again completed her tour of Iowa’s 99 counties (known as the “full Grassley" and adopted by presidential candidates). Even if governors are unable to control the political and/or economic environment in which they run, they do have control over how comfortable voters are with their approach to governing, and that comfort can help carry them through trying times.