CLEAR LAKE | On a recent cool autumn Saturday, Gov. Kim Reynolds made a pair of stops in northern Iowa to speak at local Republican Party gatherings.

She gave brief remarks at both events, but also took time to mingle with those who had come out to see her while eating some chili or bidding on an auction item.

It was classic Iowa retail politics as Reynolds continues to lay the groundwork for her campaign. Although she has not yet officially declared herself a candidate, Reynolds expects to be on the ballot - at the top of the ticket, this time - in 2018.

“The harder you work the luckier you get. And you don’t stop,” Reynold said in an interview. “So when there’s two county parties in a day, you do both of them. And if there was a third one, we probably would have done it.”

That Reynolds is not officially a candidate is a mere formality. The state’s first female governor, promoted earlier this year when former Gov. Terry Branstad became U.S. ambassador to China, will run next year with acting lieutenant governor and former state public defender Adam Gregg as her running mate.

Despite running as a successor incumbent, Reynolds did not clear the Republican field. She must first secure her party’s nomination by defeating Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett and Boone City Council member Steven Ray. Seven Democrats are running for Terrace Hill.

Reynolds has consolidated the support of the state’s top Republicans. Both of Iowa’s U.S. senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, have announced their support for Reynolds. So have Rep. Steve King, from the state’s conservative western and northern district, and Rep. Rod Blum, from the more moderate eastern district. State Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey backers her, too. And she has a list of more than 3,500 chairpersons from each of the state’s 99 counties.

Reynolds was in the eastern portion of King’s district on this fall Saturday, speaking to local party events in Clear Lake and Webster City.

She defended public education funding levels since Republicans gained two-thirds of state government control in 2011, talked about the need for federal health care reform, and stressed the importance of Iowa remaining the first presidential caucus state.

She also thanked those local Republicans for their work helping to elect GOP candidates in the past few elections, which vaulted the party to complete control of the Statehouse this year.

And she worked the room, greeting those who came out with smiles, handshakes and brief conversations. Some people knew the governor, others just wanted to express thanks or support. She celebrated with them when news spread that the Iowa State University football team earned a victory over a highly ranked opponent.

Reynolds knows well that those interactions are crucial to electoral success here.

“Iowans expect it,” she said.

Such events also allow Reynolds to present her message directly to voters. Those opportunities are important because Reynolds, as the incumbent in the 2018 gubernatorial race, will face criticism from her opponents for anything happening at the state level.

Some will criticize Reynolds for issues including a state budget that needed more than $260 million worth of patchwork. Trouble with the private management of the state’s $5 billion Medicaid program will also be used as ammunition.

Some will re-litigate the 2017 legislative session, during which Republicans took advantage of full party control by implementing myriad conservative policies, among them a significant weakening of public employee unions’ collective bargaining rights, the defunding of women’s reproductive health care provider Planned Parenthood, and a voter ID requirement.

Those changes brought thousands of upset Iowans to the state capitol and public forums during the legislative session, but Reynolds said she was confident voters - even beyond the GOP primary - will be receptive to those changes during the 2018 campaign.

“I think once we get through it, they’re going to understand that the world is not going to crash and everything is not going to cease to exist, that things will go on,” Reynolds said. “The process is working. With (collective bargaining) reform it really does give flexibility to our agencies and to our school districts to really let them make the decisions that need to be made with the resources that they have.”

Reynolds said she is confident voters also will be receptive to her agenda for the coming year - tax reform, water quality funding, and programs designed to educate and train workers.

“If we can get water quality done and tax reform, that will be great,” Reynolds said. “Who’s going to be against getting workers the skills they need to be successful? Who’s going to be against making sure students have the education for a knowledge economy? ... A lot of it is practical policy that can really help lift Iowans up and make them more successful.”

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net.

Outbrain