Governor Terry Branstad is crediting former First Lady Nancy Reagan for having keen political instincts that helped propel her husband to the White House.

“Nancy, I think, had a very good political antenna and wasn’t afraid to whisper in the president’s ear if there were changes that should be made or people that she felt were not being loyal to the president,” Branstad told reporters this morning during his weekly news conference.

Branstad supported Ronald Reagan’s 1976 bid for the White House and gave the Reagan’s a briefing in the only private place they could quickly find in a downtown Des Moines hotel. It was a phone booth.

“So Ronald and Nancy Reagan and I got in that phone booth, the three of us, so that’s really up close and personal,” Branstad said, with a laugh. “…I could see in Nancy’s face that she was kind of worried.”

But Branstad said Ronald Reagan came out and gave a “wonderful” speech that wowed delegates at the northwest Iowa GOP district convention — and Reagan wound up winning about half of the Iowa delegates at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City. Later, after Branstad became governor in 1983, he and his wife were annual guests at the Reagan White House during the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington.

“That is always a wonderful experience and Nancy Reagan was always a great host. I always say my wife sat next to Don Regan (during) his last dinner at the White House,” Branstad said, with a laugh, “because he was gone a couple of days after that.”

Regan was the president’s chief of staff, but he was forced to resign in 1987 shortly after he hung up on Nancy Reagan in the middle of a conversation with the first lady.

Nancy Reagan early Sunday morning at her home in Los Angeles. She was 94.