Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he'll support Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump if Trump is the GOP presidential nominee, but the governor is not sure whether he would actively campaign with Trump.
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"We'll see," the Republican governor said, adding that he has a state to run.
Trump helped lure voters who haven't cast ballots in past elections, Hutchinson told about 250 people who attended a Political Animals Club luncheon at the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock. Tuesday's elections attracted more than 627,000 voters, a record for an election that included a primary.
The governor recalled that many people questioned whether it was worthwhile for the Republican-controlled Legislature, at his request in a special session last year, to move Arkansas' primary from late May to Tuesday for the state to participate in a regional presidential primary.
"And, my goodness, it was," Hutchinson said, noting that four presidential candidates visited Arkansas in the three days before Tuesday's election.
He said exit polls showed a significant number of voters in Arkansas' primary hadn't voted during the past four elections.
"That's extraordinary, so way to go, Donald Trump," said Hutchinson, who last week endorsed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to be the Republican presidential nominee. Trump finished first in the state's primary, ahead of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rubio.
"For whatever you say about Donald Trump, he created interest," Hutchinson said. "He created excitement in [the primary]. He knows how to do that and he entertained. He captured an emotion that was in the public ... and it turned out."
He said more than 400,000 Arkansans turned out in the Republican primary, compared with 225,000 in 2008 when the state held a presidential primary separate from a primary for state and local offices.
With all 75 counties reporting results, 409,821 votes were cast in the Republican presidential primary, compared with 220,417 in the Democratic presidential primary, the secretary of state's website said Wednesday night.
State Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb of Benton said roughly 62 percent of Arkansans voted for Republicans in this year's primary compared with nearly 42 percent in 2012.
"It is clear that Arkansans best identify with conservative values and less with the job-killing, liberal policies of Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders," Webb said in a written statement. "This historic Republican primary voter turnout proves that Arkansans want to see a Republican in the White House in 2016."
H.L. Moody, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said Arkansas Democrats turned out in huge numbers to vote in the primary.
"Unlike Republicans, who are embroiled in a bare-knuckle brawl of personal attacks and insults, Democratic candidates have been talking about issues that affect the lives of real Arkansans," he said in a written statement. "While Republican candidates talk about building walls to divide us, Democrats are working to break down barriers so that every hard-working Arkansas family can achieve the American dream. Republican candidates are determined to see who can act the least presidential."
Despite Tuesday's success, Trump still has a long way to go, Hutchinson said.
"I think the challenge for Donald Trump and the test for him is that he has convinced those who are angry, those who are frustrated with the federal government and what's happening in Washington that he is their candidate because he can express the same frustration," Hutchinson said. "He has shown that he can captivate the media and he can generate audiences. But what he has to do now is convince the mainstream Republicans [and] America that he is capable of presidential leadership," he said.
"I believe that is the test and he has the opportunity to do that. If he shifts his demeanor, if he shifts his structure, his comments and his discipline, so that he can come across as showing that he can lead just not America, but he can also lead the Republican Party, then you will see more of the establishment saying he will be an acceptable nominee," he said.
If Trump continues down his divisive path, there will be grave concern about whether Republicans will lose U.S. Senate seats and governor's offices, particularly in "blue states," because of who leads the Republican ticket, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson later told reporters that much of Trump's rhetoric has been divisive and offensive and beneath the dignity of the president and he is not exclusive in that category.
"But if he wants to solidify his support, he has got to put more meat on the policy initiatives that he has to give credibility to them," he said. "He has to convince more of the mainstream Republican Party that he can be a serious debater of the issues against Hillary Clinton in November. He has got to conduct himself in a way that we believe he is going to represent us well on the world stage."
Hutchinson said he doesn't know whether Trump can do that.
"He has demonstrated an ability to be disciplined at times. It only lasts a while. We just have to wait and see, but I do think that is the burden on his shoulders. I think he has the opportunity, if he seizes the moment. It is not a done deal. There is a lot of time between now and the convention. Until he gets to the majority of delegates, this race is going to go on," the governor said.
Metro on 03/03/2016
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