NEWTON, Iowa – As Iowa set a record for hospital patients with Covid-19, Governor Kim Reynolds appeared this week at an indoor fundraiser for the Republican Party, just days after joining the president Trump at one of her huge gatherings in Des Moines, where she threw hats at the boisterous crowd.
In neither event was social distancing or face masks a priority. Last week’s rally challenged guidelines from the White House’s own health experts that crowds in central Iowa would be capped at 25.
The governor of Iowa is not on the ballot next month. But his provocative attitude towards advice from health experts on how to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, as his state sees a grim tide of new cases and deaths, could lead to fellow Republican sidelining present, including Mr. Trump and Senator Joni Ernst.
Ms Reynolds, the first woman to lead Iowa, is an avatar of the president’s approach to the pandemic, refusing to issue warrants and ignoring advice from infectious disease experts, who say universal masking and social distancing are essential to limit the spread of the virus. . Defying that advice has eroded support for both Mr Trump and Ms Reynolds in Iowa, especially among voters over 65, normally a strong Republican constituency, according to public and private polls.
“Our former Iowans – many haven’t been able to leave their homes because they don’t feel safe,” said Representative Cindy Axne, first-term Democrat who represents Des Moines and southwest Iowa . “If you go to a grocery store, the vast majority of people don’t wear a mask.”
Ms Axne added that disappointment at the governor’s handling of the virus was raising Democrats like her who are on the ballot this year. “Voters know we stand up to keep their families safe,” she said.
A Monmouth University poll on Thursday showed Democrats leading in three of four congressional races in Iowa, even the fourth, in deeply conservative Iowa northwest, is surprisingly tight.
Rick Flanagan, a 61-year-old voter from Newton who had planned to vote for Ms Ernst in the Senate race, recalled when he changed his mind in favor of his Democratic opponent.
That’s ‘when Ernst said she didn’t believe in deaths and the science of Covid,’ Mr Flanagan said, referring to Ms Ernst’s remarks echoing a conspiracy theory that deaths from coronavirus were swollen and that medical professionals had a financial incentive. do this.
“It sealed me off, and honestly, it soured me on Republicans,” Flanagan said. Ms. Ernst reconsidered her remarks and apologized to the healthcare workers.
David Kochel, a former senior adviser to Ms Reynolds, dismissed as “ludicrous” the idea that any Republican-leaning voter defected to Democratic candidates over the governor’s handling of the coronavirus. He said in racing this year Iowa was returning to its swing state status.
“The polls in 2020 are almost identical to the polls in 2018” before the pandemic, he said. “Iowa has very bright partisan lines.”
Iowa is part of a third wave of nationwide coronavirus infections that is hitting the Midwest with particular ferocity. The state ranks in the top 10 nationally with the most new cases per capita over the past week, according to the New York Times tracking.
Ms Reynolds has called the mask mandates of actions of “well-being” and refused to issue a statewide directive, unlike Republican governors in states like Texas and Ohio. At the same time, it prevented municipalities from enforcing their own mask decrees. Iowa was one of the few states that never had a full stay-at-home ordinance, and it allowed restaurants, bars, and barber shops to reopen earlier than most places. Still, the hospitality and retail sectors are struggling as consumers have not fully returned.
Through a spokesperson, Ms Reynolds declined a request for an interview.
Pressed in September if she considered a mask warrant as cases started to rise again, Ms Reynolds said: ‘No, that won’t happen. She said she trusted the Iowans, armed with data about the virus, to make their own decisions.
Rob Hogg, a Democratic senator from Cedar Rapids whose Twitter account reports the daily count of coronavirus cases in Iowa counties, said the governor’s appearance at the rally “looked terrible.”
“I believe many more Iowans will vote on the coronavirus against Republicans,” he predicted.
Mr Trump and Ms Ernst – whose seat could play a decisive role in determining Senate control – are both in close contests in a state Mr Trump easily won four years ago. This week, Crystal Ball of Larry Sabato, a non-partisan handicapper, assessed Ms Ernst’s race as leaning towards her Democratic opponent, Theresa Greenfield. Over $ 100 million was spent on the race by outside groups, roughly equally for each candidate.
In a New York Times / Siena College poll in Iowa this week, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. narrowly led Mr. Trump with likely voters, 46% to 43%, while Ms Ernst had a one point advantage over Ms Greenfield, 45 to 44.
A Republican strategist who works in Iowa and other states said Mr. Trump’s mismanagement of the virus had put many GOP officials at risk. “I don’t want to underestimate how much Trump is driving here,” the strategist said, speaking on the condition that he is not appointed to protect his clients. “You have the worst of both worlds: Trump refuses to take ownership, punishes governors, but then makes it very clear in words and actions what he considers acceptable.”
Monmouth’s latest state poll found more than three in five voters 65 and over were very concerned about the coronavirus outbreak. Other polls have found support for Ms Reynolds’ handling of the virus declined sharply over the summer, with the number of new cases nearly doubling to around 1,000 a day.
The latest state data shows record high hospitalizations and daily deaths reaching levels not seen since May. Wednesday, Another 31 deaths were recorded in 24 hours and 534 Iowans were hospitalized for Covid-19, continuing an outbreak that began in early October.
A survey by the Des Moines Register and Mediacom in September showed that a plurality of Iowans, 47%, disapproved of Ms Reynolds’ handling of the pandemic, 15 percentage points lower than the number who did. disapproved in June. For the first time since Ms Reynolds, 61, became governor in 2017, more Iowans said the state was on the wrong track rather than in the right direction, the poll found.
The virus hit Iowa later than other states because the large rural population slowed the spread of the community. In Jasper County east of Des Moines, a predominantly rural area with a relatively low infection rate, many Walmart shoppers this week chose not to wear masks, rejecting the welcome they received. offered free coverage.
One who wore a mask, David Richardson, said he was considering voting for a third-party presidential candidate because he was turned off by Mr Trump and Mr Biden. The coronavirus “hasn’t really affected anything for me,” said Mr Richardson, who is 36.
Trump supporter Sarah Farrand said the virus was behind other political concerns, such as the appointment of judges who oppose abortion.
“Maybe it’s because we live in a small American town, but the virus hasn’t really hit us,” said Ms. Farrand, 42. “We can’t explore or have the freedom that we used to experience, but other than that we’re pretty good. “
Even so, she embraced wearing a mask. “The mask was the biggest change in my life,” she says.