Kim Reynolds wins, becoming Iowa’s first elected female governor

Republican Kim Reynolds defeats Democrat Fred Hubbell in race for Iowa governor.


Katie Goodale

Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses her supporters at the Hilton in Des Moines on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Reynolds defeated her opponent, Democratic candidate Fred Hubbell on Tuesday.

Sarah Watson, Politics Editor

DES MOINES — Former lieutenant governor and current acting governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, became the first woman to be elected to Iowa’s highest political office Tuesday night.

There are still 22 states that have never elected a female governor according to CAWP at Rutgers University. She defeated Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell by a narrow margin. Reynolds won 50.4 percent to Hubbell’s 47.4 percent, according to unofficial tallies from the Iowa secretary of state.

Hubbell won a majority in 11 counties — mostly in the eastern part of the state. Reynolds won the other 88 counties.

RELATED: Where Iowa gubernatorial candidates stand on education, health care, and more

In a watch party at the Hilton hotel in downtown Des Moines, Reynolds emphasized she would continue on a track of cutting taxes, and expanding Iowa’s economy to a crowd of about 700 attendees, chanting along with the crowd that Iowa was “just getting started.”

She thanked a list of Republican candidates as well as her opponent Hubbell, for a hard-fought campaign, saying she looked forward to working with him to find solutions for the people who supported him.

“We both ran for governor wanting the best for our state, so I wish him and his family well,” Reynolds said.

Reagan Reece, 23, a law student at Drake University from northwest Iowa, said she was ecstatic that Reynolds would be the next governor.

“As a female, I can’t express enough how incredibly excited I am. She is pushing the forefront of women in leadership as well as Joni Ernst,” Reece said, referring to one of Iowa’s two U.S. Senators. Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, were not on the ballot this year. “We need this right now as women.”

As the first half of reporting precincts came in, Republicans at the GOP watch party looked somber gathered around a TV broadcasting Fox News. Two of Iowa’s Congressional districts had fallen to Democrats and Reynolds looked to trail in early results.

“Come on Kimmie,” one supporter shouted. Reynolds’ margin grew as more precinct totals came in.

Reynolds’ victory continues the rightward tilt Iowa took in 2016. In that election, Iowa voted for Donald Trump by a 10-point margin and ushered in a Republican-controlled state House and Senate in Iowa, creating a Republican trifecta in state government. Previously, the state had backed Barack Obama in his two presidential campaigns.

Iowa’s Congressional makeup will return to purple after Tuesday, however, after Democrats unseated two of Iowa’s U.S. representatives, both Republicans.

RELATED: Meet Gov. Reynolds through a student lens

Reynolds will preside over a Republican state Legislature, with both chambers remaining red. In her first year, she marshaled a Republican-controlled state House and Senate. In the four-month session, GOP leaders tallied legislative accomplishments including a law that would ban nearly all abortions in the state and a tax-reform bill that would cut individuals’ and small businesses’ taxes by $398 million in income taxes in 2019.

Reynolds spoke soon after unseated U.S. Rep. David Young, a Republican who, in an emotional concession speech, told supporters “the fight is never over.”

“I know it was mixed blessing tonight, there were a lot of people on the ballot and we had some great victories this year,” Reynolds said.

An Osceola native, Reynolds ran on the promise of lower taxes and a balanced state budget, citing a $127 million budget surplus announced in October as a signal she managed the state well in her first year in the Governor’s Office.

Reynolds, 59, stepped into the role of acting governor in May of 2017 after her predecessor, former Gov. Terry Branstad, left the position to become the U.S. ambassador to China.

Reynolds served as lieutenant governor under Branstad for seven years. Before running on the ticket with Branstad, she served as a state senator and county treasurer.

During her brief tenure as governor, Reynolds signed legislative mental-health reform and established a Future Ready Iowa program with a goal of hitting 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have post-secondary education by 2025.

Her opponent, Hubbell, criticized her for signing off on $35 million in budget cuts to state services and programs.

RELATED: Meet Fred Hubbell through a student lens

Gail Mckien, a Hubbell supporter and Des Moines native, said that she thought Hubbell’s wealthy background and Reynolds’ attack ads hurt him in the race.

“[Hubbell] refused to go low and [Reynolds] did nothing but attack ads,” Mckien said. “She called him a liar — he would never use the word liar.”

Mckien said she hates to see Hubbell lose, especially because she said he ran a decent and clean campaign.

In 2014, Branstad won with 58 percent of the vote, a margin of more than 20 points. He won every county except Johnson in 2014.

Tuesday marked the end to a governor’s race in which candidates’ spending reached a fever pitch. Since January of 2017, the two combined have spent about $33 million on their campaigns. About $6.5 million was contributed by Hubbell himself.

RELATED: Gubernatorial candidates raise record funds

National attention focused on the race with the Republican Governor’s Association and the Democratic counterpart both contributing heavily in the final few weeks ahead of Election Day. Hubbell was a primary contributor to his own campaign.

In the months leading up to the election, polling showed Hubbell ahead by razor-thin margins. The Iowa Poll conducted by the Des Moines Register and Mediacom showed the candidates within 2 percentage points for each of the two polls they forecast.

Lily Smith
Former Democratic candidate for Iowa governor Fred Hubbell greets supporters with his wife Charlotte during the statewide Democratic candidates’ watch party at Embassy Suites in Des Moines on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Hubbell, a retired business executive who campaigned primarily on the idea of undoing Reynolds’ policies, was a fierce critic of Branstad’s decision to bring in for-profit companies to manage patients housed under the state health insurance program Medicaid. He supported renegotiating contracts with the two managed-care organizations.

Hubbell said in his concession speech he hopes Reynolds will represent all Iowans in her first full term.

“Tonight didn’t turn out the way we would have liked, but the energy and the support that we’ve received along the way is proof that a lot of Iowans know we need change,” Hubbell said.

Hubbell spoke about education and Medicaid, saying he hopes voices will be given to teachers in crowded classrooms and that Iowans pre-existing conditions will be protected.

He also heavily criticized “wasteful tax giveaways,” pointing to $19.65 million the Iowa Economic Development Authority approved for Apple to build a facility in Waukee. The tech giant is expected to create 50 jobs with the new location.

MacKenzie Dreeszen, from Polk City, sporting a Make America Great Again hat, said she supported Reynolds for her message of economic prosperity and because she offered a woman’s perspective to the governor’s seat.

“I think it’s inspiring to any woman,” Dreeszen said. “I’ll admit, it was a job title I wanted at one time, but I don’t mind letting her have it because I think she deserves it.”