Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa did not ask former Vice President Mike Pence about Donald J. Trump’s indictments, the topic about which he is most often grilled on the campaign trail. Nor did she ask him if his life had changed “since Tucker Carlson ruined your career,” as one voter shouted during his appearance at the political soapbox Thursday.
Instead, the popular Republican governor struck a different tone on Friday morning, asking the former vice president what she called the “fast three”: his funniest moment on the trail, his favorite food at the fair and his favorite walkout song.
At the Des Moines Register’s soapbox, a longtime fixture at the fair, candidates have 20 minutes to make their pitch to a discerning crowd of voters who relish the retail politicking that is crucial to winning Iowa. Presidential hopefuls come to the fair with the goal of avoiding awkward moments and on-the-fly responses to audience questions.
But Ms. Reynolds’s new “fair-side” chats are shaping up to be more of a safe space, where the 2024 Republican field has so far answered softball questions tailored to their platforms, allowing them to speak about proposed policies at length with little follow-up.
The Iowa governor also seems to have mastered the art of helping the candidates while boosting her own brand, leveling criticism at the Biden administration while promoting her legislative successes in the state between their responses.
This friendly atmosphere may be why Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina are skipping the soapbox altogether, in favor of conversations with Ms. Reynolds on Saturday and Tuesday.
Ms. Reynolds’ questions so far have focused on candidates’ successes in their respective offices, how to curb what she called the Biden administration’s “ridiculous” economic policies and how they plan to win the nomination.
But she has also served to humanize the contenders. She laughed off accidentally introducing Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota as the governor of North Carolina. She equated “Miami nice” to “Iowa nice” with Mayor Francis X. Suarez of Miami. And with Mr. Pence, she joked about her husband’s likeness to the former vice president.
“I can say with confidence, he’s a very handsome man,” Mr. Pence said. “I agree,” Ms. Reynolds responded.