Republican gubernatorial candidates Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Monday praised Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin after his announced departure from the governor's race to instead run for attorney general in 2022.
But state Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, said he's "a little bit surprised" at the decision to switch because Griffin invested a lot of time and effort into his bid for governor.
"I was surprised to see that abrupt change," he said.
As far as his potential bid for governor, Hendren said he's "still hoping to make a decision on some things in the next week or two."
Griffin's announcement Monday that he switched races came two weeks after Sanders, a former press secretary for then-President Donald Trump, announced her campaign for governor. Sanders reported that she had raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions within four days of launching her campaign.
"While I believe Arkansans are ready for my message of bold, conservative leadership, my conversations with friends and supporters have persuaded me that at this time, I can do more for Arkansas in a different capacity," Griffin, of Little Rock, said.
Sanders, of Little Rock, said Monday, "Tim Griffin has been a strong voice for Arkansas and I look forward to working with him to unite our party and make our state better.
"I wish Tim and his family the very best," she said in a written statement.
Rutledge, of Maumelle, said Griffin is "a fierce advocate for Arkansas's conservative values--our military, law enforcement, and rule of law."
"Having been the attorney general for over 6 years, I personally know the importance of the role in which every decision I make impacts 3 million Arkansans daily and the enormous responsibility I have to proactively protect and defend our constitutional rights against the aggressive liberal agenda of the Biden-Harris Administration, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi," she said in a written statement.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has been governor since 2015 and is barred from seeking re-election under the state's term limits amendment.
James "Rus" Russell of Little Rock has said he is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
Former U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland said he is continuing to look at running for the Republican nomination for attorney general.
He said he doesn't have a specific timeline for making a final decision.
"It's still early, so we are evaluating our options," said Hiland, who also is a former prosecutor.
The state's Fair Housing Commission director, Leon Jones, said Sunday that he still plans to run for the Republican nomination for attorney general, though he hasn't made a formal announcement yet.
Griffin reported raising more than $1.8 million in contributions for his campaign for governor from March 3, 2020, through the end of last year, accumulating a campaign treasury totaling more than $1.7 million.
Arkansas Ethics Commission Director Graham Sloan said Monday "it's a bit of a gray area" in state law about whether candidates can transfer money raised for a campaign for one office to a campaign for another office.
The law doesn't say whether the money may or may not be transferred, he said.
The commission's staff always has advised candidates to refund the money for the initial campaign for one office to contributors, and then resolicit the money for the subsequent campaign, he said.
David Ray, a spokesman for Griffin's campaign, said state law "doesn't require that the contributions be returned, but we are voluntarily contacting all of our donors to give them the option of having their money refunded."
Ray said a "proposed Senate bill requiring the money be returned is the best evidence that it is currently not required," he said.
Attorney John Tull III said in a letter dated Monday to Griffin that his campaign is not obligated under state law to return contributions raised for the 2022 primary and general elections in light of his announcement that he is running for attorney general.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said he filed Senate Bill 82 to put into state law the Ethics Commission's staff advice to candidates changing races.
Under the bill, if a candidate files a campaign contribution report for one office and subsequently withdraws and files a contribution report for a different office, all campaign funds collected for the first race would have to returned to contributors within 30 days after the end of the month in which the candidate switched races.
"Contributions shall be returned to contributors based on a pro-rata division of the remaining campaign funds," according to SB82.
Dismang said he filed the bill because "there is nothing that specifically said that that's what a candidate had to do, so you have had different instances where that guidance wasn't followed.
"Without something specific being in place, it is up to the candidate to make the final decision on if they feel as though they are following the right process or correct process."