Cedar Rapids mayor to announce plans in Iowa governor’s race

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett - Photo courtesy City of Cedar Rapids

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Ron Corbett, the Cedar Rapids mayor and former Iowa House speaker, was widely expected to announce plans Tuesday to challenge Gov. Kim Reynolds for the Republican nomination for governor.

Corbett, 56, has scheduled an evening picnic with supporters to announce his future plans at a market in Cedar Rapids, where he’s leaving office after two terms.

If he runs, the announcement would set up a one-year campaign for the June 2018 GOP primary featuring Iowa’s first female governor and the popular mayor of the state’s second largest city. Several Democratic candidates are also running for their party’s nomination in what they see as a winnable race. The campaign is expected to be closely watched nationally because Iowa has trended Republican in voting and policy in recent years.

Reynolds, first elected lieutenant governor in 2010, became governor last month when her political mentor, Gov. Terry Branstad, resigned to become the U.S. ambassador to China.

She would be considered the favorite in the primary at this point, with strong backing from the party establishment, including its social conservative base and business interests. Reynolds has $1 million in her campaign fund and plans to double that by the end of the year. She has tapped acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg as her running mate and this week released a list of 1,050 supporters in all 99 counties.

But she will also be tested by her handling of ongoing state budget problems that appear to be worsening and an array of other challenges. Some of Reynolds’ supporters had hoped Corbett would skip the race.

Iowa Democrats welcomed the news that Reynolds would likely face a serious challenge from within her party.

“This primary will leave the Republican nominee out of touch and weakened in 2018,” party chairman Derek Eadon said.

The Republican Party of Iowa said the organization and its top two officials were required to be neutral in the primary but that other party leaders will be free to make endorsements. Some already are backing Reynolds.

Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said the GOP has been “fortunate to have a Republican mayor in one of our large urban areas” and said Corbett has served the state well. He said he would be neutral but continue to strongly support Reynolds in her capacity as governor, adding that primaries “are not a bad thing.”

Corbett had traveled the state in recent months to promote his new memoir, “Beyond Promises,” which recounts stories from his career in the Legislature, as president of the Chamber of Commerce in Cedar Rapids and his two terms as mayor. He also has used his think tank, Engage Iowa, to promote ideas for boosting teacher pay, updating the state’s tax code and improving Iowa’s polluted waterways.

Corbett served in the Iowa House from 1987 until 1999. He was House speaker during his final five years in office, helping push an income tax cut through the Republican-controlled Legislature. He later worked for the Cedar-Rapids based trucking company CRST International.

Corbett returned to politics to run for mayor in 2009 as Cedar Rapids tried to rebuild from a flood the prior year that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Corbett has won praise for helping see through major building projects that have transformed the city’s downtown. His picnic Tuesday will be held in the popular NewBo district, which was among the hardest hit but has since transformed into a destination with new shops, restaurants and bars.

Corbett told The Associated Press last month that the public shouldn’t assume Reynolds’ nomination is a foregone conclusion.

“People that think that this race is over with, it hasn’t even begun,” he said. “We’re a year out from the primary. This is just starting.”