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Opinion Keep an eye on Kim Reynolds. She may be a Republican star on the rise.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) speaks at a news conference in Adel, Iowa, on Oct. 20. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Two Republican women in recent years have risen as contenders to appear on a national ballot. That’s former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem.

Now, it seems, there might be a third: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Reynolds will give the GOP’s response to President Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. The role has significantly boosted the political profile of past speakers. Then-Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s response to Barack Obama’s 2011 address helped propel him to become Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2013 response helped him prepare for his 2016 presidential run. Haley gained national prominence with her 2016 reply; by year’s end, she was Donald Trump’s pick for U.N. ambassador.

Thus, this is a golden opportunity for Reynolds. And she has plenty to crow about: Just this week, the GOP-controlled legislature in her state passed a massive income tax cut. Iowa currently levies a progressive income tax similar to that of the federal government, with nine separate tax brackets levying rates of up to 8.53 percent. Reynolds proposed replacing those with a single 4 percent flat rate to be phased in over the next few years. The legislature went even further, passing a bill that would establish a 3.9 percent flat rate by 2026. The new law also exempts from taxation all retirement income from pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs.

Combined with some corporate tax cuts, the legislation is estimated to reduce state revenue by $1.9 billion a year when fully phased in. Iowa state revenue was estimated to be roughly $9 billion for this coming fiscal year. Even presuming steady growth, Reynold’s tax cuts would still reduce state funds by a significant amount.

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Reynolds also falls within the Republican mainstream on cultural and education matters. She supports banning transgender athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s sports, which she says is a “fairness issue.” She supports school choice, providing public money to let parents choose nonpublic education for their children. She is also pro-life on abortion and last year signed a bill prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in Iowa public schools. In other words, she hits every note in the modern Republican song book.

Her background is also one that reflects the current GOP. She dropped out of college and did not earn a bachelor’s degree until she took night classes while serving as lieutenant governor. Like Noem, she can talk to the party’s working-class base from personal experience. She also has the long history of public service valued by the party’s establishment, serving four terms as her county’s elected treasurer before becoming a state senator and lieutenant governor. That experience, combined with her low-key demeanor, will reassure the many Republicans who want sobriety and stability in their leaders.

All this could make her a viable national figure, especially for a party that needs and wants more female leaders. If she performs well on Tuesday, Reynolds can expect to be offered more opportunities to speak out of state at GOP events and fundraisers. That will better acquaint her with Republicans across the country, much as Haley and Noem have become fixtures on the national GOP speaking circuit.

Reynolds also has an advantage that none of her competitors possess: leadership in the state that will likely vote first in the 2024 GOP nomination process. The Iowa caucuses will attract all potential candidates, and each will want her endorsement and the network it would unlock. That also gives her a chance to audition for the contenders in a manner that few others in the party can. Haley cannily used her position as the governor of the third state to vote, South Carolina, to boost her profile in 2016. Reynolds would be foolish not to do the same.

Projecting future political relevance is always difficult, and a lot rides on how people perform under pressure. Then-Louisiana Gov.Bobby Jindal was touted as a rising star before delivering the response to Obama’s 2009 address, with many considering him potential presidential material. Instead, his wooden delivery stopped his momentum dead in its tracks. He didn’t run in 2012, and his moment had passed by the time he threw his hat in the ring in 2015. Jindal dropped out months before the Iowa caucuses, his once-promising career over.

Reynolds almost certainly won’t run for president in 2024, but she will place herself in a good position to be on everyone’s vice-presidential list if she can deliver Tuesday night. If she does, expect to start hearing more about her in the years ahead.

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