Sarah Huckabee Sanders Wins GOP Primary for Arkansas Governor: NPR

Arkansas GOP lead candidate for governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks to a crowd of supporters Sept. 6, 2021, in Benton, Ark., her first campaign appearance after announcing her candidacy.

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Arkansas GOP lead candidate for governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks to a crowd of supporters Sept. 6, 2021, in Benton, Ark., her first campaign appearance after announcing her candidacy.

Michael Hibblen/KUAR

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Primaries across the country this year are seen as a test of former President Donald Trump’s influence over voters and the Republican Party, but in solidly red Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ victory in the primary of the GOP for governor was no surprise.

At 39, Sanders has led an unprecedented campaign for the post once held by his father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee. Buoyed by an early endorsement from Trump and a record $14 million war chest, Sanders scored an easy victory Tuesday night over former radio host Francis “Doc” Washburn.

In November, Sanders will face Democrat Chris Jones, a Baptist minister and MIT-educated nuclear engineer who emerged from a crowded Democratic primary field as an early frontrunner.

Regardless of who ultimately wins, the general election will be historic; Jones would be the state’s first black governor, Sanders would be the first woman elected to the position.

The competition bows out

Sanders initially faced stiffer competition for the Republican nomination in the form of state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin. Established conservatives with statewide name recognition, Rutledge and Griffin eventually withdrew from the gubernatorial race in favor of running for other statewide offices.

Sanders’ focus primarily on domestic GOP talking points has made her an easy target for her key challengers who have accused her of ignoring statewide issues.

But these attacks backfired on his challengers who were then considered too narrow-minded.

“That was enough for the Arkansas voter,” says political scientist Heather Yates of the University of Central Arkansas. “They don’t really need Sarah Sanders talking about local issues, and so her whole campaign is about Arkansas’ place on the national spectrum.”

During her campaign, Sarah Huckabee Sanders laughs and mingles with voters in Benton, Arkansas on September 6, 2021. Sanders was running in the GOP primary for governor of Arkansas.

Michael Hibblen/KUAR


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During her campaign, Sarah Huckabee Sanders laughs and mingles with voters in Benton, Arkansas on September 6, 2021. Sanders was running in the GOP primary for governor of Arkansas.

Michael Hibblen/KUAR

Some believe Sanders’ true ambitions lie in a higher position. That led to a crowded race for lieutenant governor with six Republicans, including former main challenger Rutledge, vying for the largely ceremonial seat.

Sanders’ Republican politics would also be very different from that of incumbent Governor Asa Hutchinson, who has sought to make a name for himself on the national stage as a more centrist alternative to the Trump wing of the GOP.

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