In the eyes of supporters, Gov. Kim Reynolds, who will deliver the Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union on Tuesday, is one of few conservatives capable of bridging the populism of former President Donald J. Trump to the party’s more calibrated effort to recapture Congress.
To her critics, Ms. Reynolds represents the contradictions and hypocrisies of a Republican establishment trying to project a moderate image while bowing to the whims of a former president who has little regard for the party’s mainstream past, or its future without him.
What fans and foes agree upon: Ms. Reynolds, 62, is one of her party’s most effective messengers since taking office in Iowa in 2017, a skilled politician who has a knack for putting a folksy, heartland spin on hard-line Republican abortion, guns and coronavirus policies.
“She’s kind of an Everywoman,” said David Kochel, a Republican political consultant who worked with Ms. Reynolds on a speech, which will be delivered from Des Moines. “She’s a product of small-town Iowa and the working class, a very different profile than Joe Biden.”
Those attributes factored into the decision by the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to pick her as the counter to Mr. Biden — a speaking slot that has been as much a slippery sidewalk as springboard for Republican up-and-comers like a parched Marco Rubio, who was undone by a too-tempting water bottle in 2013.
It was Ms. Reynolds’ support of in-person public education and passage of a bill banning local school mask mandates in 2021, currently on hold in the courts, that sealed the deal for Mr. McConnell, people close to him said; Republicans believe that the backlash over stringent pandemic restrictions will fuel Republican turnout in the midterm elections.
She is expected to hammer away at that theme in her speech, pitching herself as a champion of parents’ rights fighting off Democrats and their allies in teachers’ unions.
Democrats, by contrast, are hoping to portray the governor as a die-hard Trump supporter trying to obscure her hard-right record.
In the lead-up to her speech, they have singled out her effort to claim partial credit for doling out $210 million in funding for rural broadband projects in Iowa — despite her opposition to Mr. Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in pandemic relief funding to the state.
“Instead of playing politics by taking credit for President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which she opposed, she should work with Democrats to support Iowa families,” said Zach Walls, a Democrat and the minority leader in the State Senate.