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Here's why more people aren't running for governor in Iowa's primary

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Democratic candidate for governor Deidre DeJear.
Madeleine King/Iowa Public Radio; Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo
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Iowa Public Radio/AP
Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Democratic candidate for governor Deidre DeJear.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Even though Iowa is one of 36 states with a race for governor this November, voters won't get to choose between different candidates for governor in Tuesday's primary.

On the Republican side, incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds is running unopposed, with a late-in-the-primary endorsement from former President Donald Trump. Reynolds became governor in 2017 and has worked with the Republican-led legislature to enact a very conservative agenda. They've drastically cut income taxes, rolled back gun regulations, passed abortion restrictions and cut the amount of time allowed for voting.

"On top of that, she has relatively strong standing in recent polls where her approval rating within the state is above 50%," says Chris Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa. "She's particularly popular among Republican voters and so I think that would deter any sort of challenger."

The Democrat(s)

Democrats go into the primary with an uncontested ticket, too, after state Rep. Ras Smith dropped out of the race. Smith cited difficulty with fundraising and said major political donors in the state refused to meet with him. He wrote in a news release:

"Unfortunately, this process has also exposed a drastic disconnect between the current political system and the people."

Smith, who is Black, was officially recognized as a rising star in the Iowa Democratic Party and successfully pushed the Republican-led legislature to pass policing reforms in 2020.

That leaves Deidre DeJear, the Democrats' solo candidate, who also appeared to struggle with campaign donations last year. Her campaign ended 2021 with about $8,500 in the bank. She has raised a lot more money since then.

DeJear is a business owner who ran for Iowa secretary of state in 2018 and was the first Black candidate to be nominated for statewide office in Iowa. DeJear was also Vice President Harris' Iowa campaign chair ahead of the 2020 presidential caucuses.

Reynolds' incumbency

Gov. Reynolds still got out on the campaign trail last week to support candidates she endorsed in GOP legislative primaries. In a rare move, Reynolds has endorsed opponents of incumbent Republican lawmakers who refused to vote for one of her policy goals: creating state-funded scholarships for private school expenses.

Larimer, the political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa, says the predictions about this being a bad election year for Democrats and Reynolds' strong position as an incumbent could be why there aren't other candidates in the primary.

"You don't want to come out and then really have to face a very difficult election in the fall and not do well," Larimer says. "And then does that hurt your long-term political prospects?"

As for third-party candidates, Libertarian Rick Stewart temporarily suspended his campaign in May after he was arrested at a protest in Washington, D.C., calling for the medical use of psilocybin.

Copyright 2022 Iowa Public Radio

Katarina Sostaric
Katarina Sostaric is an Iowa City based reporter covering Eastern Iowa for Iowa Public Radio.