Democrats were ecstatic to lose the Iowa gubernatorial race to Republican Kim Reynolds, a status quo politician with high approval ratings, speaking less than a month after many of her Republican colleagues in Congress helped pass the Affordable Care Act repeal law.
On Sunday, Republican lawmakers gathered in Iowa for the party’s state convention. And Iowa governor’s race, coupled with recent public polling, have made for some sobering time for Republican Party officials.
The Associated Press, a Republican-leaning media group, released a poll on Monday that showed Ms. Reynolds, who was sworn in as governor after Bruce Rauner, a Republican, stepped down, trailing Democrat Fred Hubbell, a business executive and hospital founder, by 10 points. A CNN poll released last week showed that close to half of Republican voters nationwide had an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Rauner.
“We are well aware of President Trump’s off-the-cuff gaffes and self-inflicted wounds, and we think they can have consequences for the Republicans in the midterms,” said Soren Dayton, a Democratic strategist in Iowa. “Iowa is one of our real success stories. Even after Rauner’s grave mistake, a big margin of Democrats still backed him.”
A CNN poll released last week showed that close to half of Republican voters nationwide had an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Rauner.
Despite having handily won the gubernatorial contest two years ago, Mr. Rauner raised nearly twice as much money as Ms. Reynolds, a former state representative, in a down year for the incumbent Republicans.
Ms. Reynolds, who said she knew Mr. Trump from when he was a real estate tycoon and two-term U.S. House member, said he was a “friend” and “a very loyal friend” and that she has sought advice from him and Vice President Mike Pence, on everything from defending hard-working men and women to immigration. “It really all depends,” she said of her disagreements with him.
But Iowa voters have varied opinions on the president. In a CNN poll earlier this month, 52 percent of Iowa voters said they liked Trump and the job he was doing, while 38 percent expressed a negative opinion of him. That percentage was statistically unchanged from the result of a poll just four months ago.
“Iowa’s been one of the bright spots for the Republican Party,” said Republican strategist Todd Harris, a Trump supporter. “Rationally, this race looks good for Kim,” he said, because Mr. Hubbell is viewed negatively by about half of Iowa voters. “But in my gut I say that Iowa’s not going to do that and it could be a reason that the governor’s race stays the same.”
As Mr. Hubbell visited Des Moines on Monday, some Republican strategists were looking to blame the loss in Iowa on Mr. Rauner, who the Democratic group Cook Political Report downgraded to “likely Republican” on Monday. That decrease from an “independent” designation reflected an analysis by the AP, which reported that Mr. Rauner was now trailing Mr. Hubbell by 8 points.