Nationalize his term as governor? “You bet I am,” said Sanders
CABOT, Ark. –She toured the state in a motorhome emblazoned with her name, ran a television commercial that aired during Arkansas Razorbacks football games, and spoke to packed houses at restaurants. The introduction of former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders as a gubernatorial candidate hasn’t strayed from most of the campaigns here.
Except for the crowds, which is way beyond what people have seen in this predominantly rural location. And the campaign discourse, which often does not concern the state.
“As I travel around the state I keep hearing this criticism, ‘Oh, there’s this Sarah Sanders, who nationalizes racing,’” Sanders told hundreds of people packed into Colton’s Steak House at Cabot, a half hour drive from the state. capital of Little Rock. “And my response to these people is, ‘You bet I am.’ Because if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on in this country, you’re missing out on what’s going on. “
“Her approach suggests that she understands the contemporary electorate in Arkansas and everywhere,” said Janine Parry, professor of political science at the University of Arkansas. Politics, Parry said, “is in a period of deep nationalization.”
It’s a stark contrast to past races for Governor of Arkansas, where Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson campaigned to demand computer training in schools. His predecessor, Democratic Governor Mike Beebe, called for the phase-out of the sales tax on groceries.
“Sarah Sanders is not running for governor of Arkansas. She’s running on a national stage, ”said Michael John Gray, former chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, who now heads an independent committee focused primarily on defeating Sanders’ candidacy.
Sanders’ approach reflects how polarized the country has become in recent years. Invoking unpopular National Democratic figures is seen as the best tactic to motivate voters, even in local races.
In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is expected to run for office, criticizes Biden on many issues, including federal spending.
In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who faces re-election next year, has little to say about his state’s battle against COVID-19 – which passed the 10,000 dead mark this week – but posted a nifty video about Biden’s performance in Afghanistan.
Some Democrats are also nationally oriented. California Governor Gavin Newsom defeated a recall attempt earlier this month with a campaign denouncing “Trumpism.” for their right-wing policies.
When Sanders talks about Arkansas, she only does it in broad strokes. She says she’s sick of the state being at the bottom of many rankings. She said she wanted to eliminate the state income tax, although she gave no indication of how. She also mentions doing something about workforce education and training, which she says hasn’t changed significantly since her father, Mike Huckabee, was governor from 1996 to 2007.
“We have to stop trying to push kids through the system and focus on how we prepare them to enter the workforce,” she told The Associated Press.
Although best known for her White House briefings, in which she fought with reporters and faced questions about her veracity, Sanders is no stranger to state policy. She appeared in television commercials for her father’s campaigns in the 1990s and early 2000s and chaired the campaign of Arkansas Senator John Boozman.
She mostly avoids referring to the current governor, Hutchinson, whom Trump called RINO, or Republican in name only, after he vetoed an anti-transgender bill. Hutchinson is prevented by state term limits from running for governor again.
His first TV commercial featured images of his father and former President Bill Clinton as they marked the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. He quickly pivots on a favorite target, claiming that “the radical left wants to teach our children that America is a racist and evil country.”
Sanders embarked on a statewide tour this month that included a rally with country singer John Rich that drew 1,000 people and a parade on Lake Ouachita which his campaign said included more than 1,500 boats.
At her stop in Cabot – a town of about 25,000 people – Sanders received the loudest applause when she spoke about Trump.
“I am proud to have worked with a president who did exactly what he said he was going to do,” she said.
Sanders’ only rival in the Republican primary, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, has fallen behind in fundraising. Sanders said in July that she has raised $ 9 million since announcing her candidacy, with the majority of the money coming from out of state.
Rutledge says there is little accomplishment behind Sanders’ rhetoric.
“While my opponent talks about the liberal left in Washington, DC, it has done nothing to fight them effectively over the past few years,” Rutledge told the AP.
Democrats, who are facing a tough climb, are trying to highlight Sanders’ stint in the White House as a sign she can’t bring people together.
But in Arkansas, where Trump won with over 62% of the vote, his hyperpartisan past is a boon for many. In Cabot, some in the mostly unmasked audience donned red Trump hats and shirts depicting the former president.
“All she stands for is just to maintain the American way of life, the conservative way of life, to preserve our rights,” said Kristen Harrington, who works at a honey company in Cabot and who wore a shirt with the inscription “Mean Tweets 2024”.
Harold Glenn Earnest, a 96-year veteran of Little Romance about 30 miles north of Cabot, who Sanders spoke with at the restaurant, said he’s already thinking beyond the Governor’s Mansion for Sanders.
“She will be the governor. There’s no question, “Earnest said.” I want to see her run for president. “
Associated Press editors Kathleen Ronayne, David Pitt, Marc Levy, Michael Catalini, and Sean Murphy contributed to this report.