Nationalizing her governor run? ‘You bet I am,’ Sanders says

Sep 24, 2021, 10:39 AM | Updated: 10:43 pm
Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders greets supporters at an event for her campaign for...

Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders greets supporters at an event for her campaign for governor at a Colton's Steak House in Cabot, Ark., Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

(AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

CABOT, Ark. (AP) — She’s toured the state in an RV emblazoned with her name, launched a TV ad that’s airing during Arkansas Razorbacks football games and spoken to packed rooms at restaurants. Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ introduction as a candidate for governor hasn’t strayed from most campaigns here.

Except for the crowds, which are far beyond what people have seen in this mostly rural place. And the campaign talk, which often isn’t about the state.

“As I travel around the state, I keep hearing this criticism, ‘Oh, there’s that Sarah Sanders, nationalizing the race,'” Sanders told hundreds of people packed at a Colton’s Steak House in Cabot, a half-hour drive from the state capital of Little Rock. “And my answer to those people is, ‘You bet I am.’ Because if you’re not paying attention to what is happening in this country, you’re missing what is going on.”

Sanders’ celebrity as former President Donald Trump’s spokesperson granted her immediate front-runner status in one of the nation’s most Trump-friendly states. It’s also transforming politics in a place where voters in state races are used to hearing overwhelmingly about Arkansas taxes, Arkansas roads and Arkansas schools.

This is hardly the only state where local politics isn’t local anymore. Republican candidates for governor elsewhere also are focused more on President Joe Biden than their own opponents and on federal, rather than state, issues. And many Democrats would rather talk about Trump than about their rivals.

“Her approach suggests she understands the contemporary electorate in Arkansas and everywhere,” said Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas. Politics, Parry said, “is in a period of profound nationalization.”

It’s a sharp contrast with past races for governor in Arkansas, where Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson campaigned on requiring computer science education in schools. His predecessor, Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, ran on phasing out the sales tax on groceries.

Sanders, 39, announced her bid in January with a promise to fight the “radical left,” something that’s awfully hard to find in solidly red Arkansas. On Twitter and elsewhere, she rails against Biden on his coronavirus pandemic response, immigration and the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Sarah Sanders is not running for governor of Arkansas. She is running on a national stage,” said Michael John Gray, a former chair of the state Democratic Party, who’s now heading an independent committee focused primarily on defeating Sanders’ bid.

Sanders’ approach reflects just how polarized the country has become in recent years. Invoking unpopular national Democratic figures is seen as the best voter-motivating tactic, even in local races.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is expected to run for reelection, is criticizing Biden on numerous issues including federal spending.

In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who faces reelection next year, has had little to say about his state’s battle with COVID-19 — which hit the grim milestone of 10,000 deaths this week — but issued a slick video on Biden’s Afghanistan performance.

Some Democrats are also leaning national. California Gov. Gavin Newsom defeated a recall attempt earlier this month with a campaign that railed against “Trumpism.” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is campaigning on abortion rights and gun control, and at a recent rally, he criticized states like Florida and Texas for their right-wing policies.

When Sanders does talk about Arkansas, she does so only in broad strokes. She says she’s tired of the state being at the bottom of many rankings. She said she wants to eliminate the state’s income tax, though she offers no hints on how. She also mentions doing something on education and workforce training, which she said hasn’t changed substantially since her father, Mike Huckabee, was governor from 1996 to 2007.

“We have to stop just trying to push kids through the system and actually focus on how are we preparing them to go into the workforce,” she told The Associated Press.

Though best known for her White House briefings, during which she sparred with reporters and faced questions about her truthfulness, Sanders is no stranger to the state’s politics. She appeared in TV ads for her dad’s campaigns in the 1990s and early 2000s and chaired Arkansas Sen. John Boozman’s campaign.

She’s mostly steered clear of referring to the current governor, Hutchinson, whom Trump has branded as a RINO, or Republican in Name Only, after he vetoed an anti-transgender bill. Hutchinson is barred by the state’s term limits from running for governor again.

Her first TV ad features footage of her dad and former President Bill Clinton as they marked the 40th anniversary of Little Rock Central High School’s desegregation. It quickly pivots to a favorite target, claiming that the “radical left wants to teach our kids 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 that her campaign said included more than 1,500 boats.

At her stop in Cabot — a city of about 25,000 — Sanders got the loudest applause when she talked about Trump.

“I’m proud of the fact I 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 lagged far behind in fundraising. Sanders in July reported raising $9 million since she announced her candidacy, with the majority of the money coming from out of state.

Rutledge says there’s little accomplishment behind Sanders’ rhetoric.

“While my opponent talks about the liberal left in Washington, D.C., she has done nothing to effectively combat them in the last several years,” Rutledge told the AP.

Democrats, who face an uphill climb, are trying to highlight Sanders’ White House stint as a sign she can’t bring people together.

But in Arkansas, where Trump won with more than 62% of the vote, her hyperpartisan past is an asset to many. In Cabot, some in the mostly unmasked audience donned red Trump hats and shirts depicting the former president.

“Everything she stands for is just maintaining the American way, the conservative way of life, keeping our rights alive,” said Kristen Harrington, who works at a honey company in Cabot and who wore a shirt that read “Mean Tweets 2024.”

Harold Glenn Earnest, a 96-year-old veteran from tiny Romance, about 30 miles north of Cabot, whom Sanders talked with at the eatery, said he’s already thinking beyond the governor’s mansion for Sanders.

“She’ll be the governor. There’s no question about that,” Earnest said. “I want to see her run for president.”


Associated Press writers Kathleen Ronayne, David Pitt, Marc Levy, Michael Catalini and Sean Murphy contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


This undated photo provided by the Mississippi Department of Corrections shows David Neal Cox. The ...
Associated Press

Prison chief: Mississippi preps for 1st execution since 2012

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi prison employees will conduct once-a-week rehearsals as the state prepares for its first execution since 2012, Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain says. Cain told The Associated Press on Friday that the rehearsals for a lethal injection are usually done once a month at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, following a […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2021 file photo, Virginia Republican Lt. Governor candidate Winsome Sears a...
Associated Press

Ayala or Sears: Both would make history in Virginia election

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — The two women seeking the lieutenant governor’s office in Virginia next month are fond of touting their unconventional political backgrounds. One thing is certain: Whichever one wins will be making history. Either candidate would be the first woman as well as the first woman of color to serve in a […]
1 day ago
Demonstrators show a placard reading "Mr. Salvini is this how you save innocent lives?" as they sta...
Associated Press

Trial opens against Italy’s Salvini for blocked migrant ship

MILAN (AP) — Italy’s right-wing former interior minister, Matteo Salvini, went on trial Saturday charged with kidnapping for refusing in 2019 to allow a Spanish migrant rescue ship to dock in Sicily, keeping the people onboard at sea for days. It is the first trial to go ahead against Salvini for his actions preventing migrant […]
1 day ago
A medical staff member in a protective suit treats a COVID-19 patient at an ICU in Infectious Hospi...
Associated Press

Russian COVID spike persists, setting new death record

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is reporting a record high number of coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths as the country approaches a week of nonworking days aimed at stemming the sharp surge in cases. The national coronavirus task force said Saturday that 1,075 people had died from the virus in the past day and that 37,678 […]
1 day ago
A covey of supporters of Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan, a banned radical Islamist party, move toward Is...
Associated Press

Thousands of Islamists continue marching to Pakistan capital

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Thousands of supporters of a banned radical Islamist party Saturday departed the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore, clashing for a second straight day with police who lobbed tear gas into the crowd, a party spokesman and witnesses said. The group began their journey Friday with the goal of reaching the capital […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Bosnia police say 6 people die in fire, some injured

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A fire in a northern Bosnian town has killed six people and injured several others, police said Saturday. The fire broke out early on Saturday in a house in the town of Brcko. Upon arrival at the scene, emergency services found six charred bodies, police said. Local media say the victims […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Nationalizing her governor run? ‘You bet I am,’ Sanders says