Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Democrat Chris Jones advance to election for governor

Republican candidate Sarah Sanders and Democratic candidate Chris Jones
Republican candidate Sarah Sanders and Democratic candidate Chris Jones

Republican candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Democratic candidate Chris Jones on Tuesday easily won their respective party’s nomination for governor to advance to the November general election.

Sanders of Little Rock overwhelmingly defeated podcaster Doc Washburn of Little Rock to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination. She is the former press secretary for former President Donald Trump and the daughter of former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee.

To win the Democratic nomination, Jones of Little Rock handily beat attorney and former state Rep. Jay Martin, businesswoman Supha Xayprasith-Mays, businessman James “Rus” Russell III and educator Anthony Bland, all of Little Rock.

Jones is a former executive director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a physicist and a minister.

Sanders and Jones will vie with Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. of Pine Bluff in the Nov. 8 general election.

The winner of the general election will succeed Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Rogers, who has been governor since 2015. The governor’s salary is $158,739 a year.

With an estimated 98.4% of the vote counted, unofficial vote totals in the Republican primary were:

Sanders 285,109

Washburn 57,855

With an estimated 96.7% of the votes counted, the unofficial vote totals in the Democratic primary were:

Jones 66,082

Bland 8,978

Martin 7,656

Russell 6,349

Xayprasith-Mays 4,710

Speaking before her supporters at the Embassy Suites in west Little Rock, Sanders quipped that she had experienced many firsts during her campaign, including the time a newborn baby urinated on her dress before an event.

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She said some of the most important first milestones are yet to come.

“I was looking back over the last year and half and realizing that one of the next firsts will be when that baby takes steps. And when he does, I will be getting sworn in as the very first female governor of the state of Arkansas,” Sanders said.

She repeated her campaign pledge to make sure children “are getting educated, not indoctrinated” in Arkansas schools.

In the wake of a shooting that left at least 21 dead in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, Sanders said she would work to keep Arkansas students safe.

“Today and the events that took place in Texas are a stark and humbling reminder of just how precious life is,” she said.

Sanders also promised to “fight for the greatness and goodness of this country” pointing out a World War II veteran in the crowd.

“We’ve still got a lot more to do,” she said. “The real work starts in January when we take office and we take Arkansas to the very top.”

Speaking to his supporters, Jones said his campaign is built on “faith, hope and hard work” and rejects “fear, hate and cronyism.”

“This type of nuclear fusion politics requires that we meet people where they are and make space for them in the room where it happens,” he said. “This type of nuclear fusion politics demands the effort to understand our neighbors’ struggles, their pain, their joy and their journey.”

Jones said he understands he will be asking some voters to “take a risk” by voting for him.

“There are Republicans who have never voted for a Democrat before, and I’m asking them to take a risk on me,” Jones said. “There are Independents who have never voted for a Democrat, and I’m asking them to take a risk. There are folks who have never voted for a Black person before, and I’m asking them to take a risk. I understand that these are risks and I don’t take that lightly. Every vote matters to me and I value every vote, so I’m seeking to earn every vote.”

In the Nov. 8 general election, Arkansas will make history by either electing the first woman or the first African American to serve as governor, he said.

Both Sanders and Jones raised and spent far more money than their opponents in their respective primaries, and Sanders’ fundraising has set a record for a governor’s race in Arkansas.

For the primary, Sanders reported raising $13 million in contributions and spending $8.5 million, leaving a balance of $4.5 million through May 14. For the general election, she reported a balance of $2 million through April 30.

For the primary election, Jones reported raising $1.84 million and spending $1.8 million, leaving a balance of $43,356 through May 14. For the general election, he reported a balance of $31,892.

In January 2021, Sanders launched her bid for governor by vowing to defend Arkansas from the “radical left now in control of Washington,” as well as promote law and order, cut state income taxes and champion good schools and teachers. She also described herself as a Christian, wife, mom and proud Arkansan in her video announcement.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin of Little Rock later departed from the governor’s race in February 2021 to run for attorney general, and Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge of Maumelle left the governor’s race in November to run for lieutenant governor.

In November, Hutchinson endorsed Sanders to be his successor as governor after Rutledge departed the race.

Washburn, a former talk radio host, opted to run for the Republican nomination for governor in February.

During the primary, Sanders described herself as a conservative, a pragmatist and a reformer and has been a frequent critic of Democratic President Joe Biden, who defeated her former boss in the November 2020 general election.

She said her top priorities would be education, workforce development and economic development, and she signaled said she wants to begin phasing out the state’s individual income tax.

Sanders has declined to specify a timeline for phasing out the state’s individual income tax, but said she thinks it’s a gradual process that the state must implement responsibly.

“I think the foundation for everything else is access to a good, quality education, so that will be the top priority for me,” she said during the primary. Other top priorities include workforce development to help address the shortage of skilled workers for private industry; and economic development, including infrastructure to ensure the state has good roads, safe bridges and access to broadband across the state, she said.

She has described herself, “I am unapologetically pro-life across the board,” and said she wouldn’t push for exceptions to save the life of the mother or in cases or rape or incest.

Sanders said she doesn’t think “critical race theory” should ever see the light of day in a school in Arkansas.

Jones announced his gubernatorial campaign in June and his campaign video focused on the intersection between his career in science and his Christian faith. He has described himself as a hopeful pragmatist

He has pitched what he described as his “PB&J” agenda of preschool, broadband and jobs. He said his goal is to expand preschool to serve all 3- and 4-year-olds across the state with high-quality programs.

During the primary Jones said he also wants to make a targeted and concerted effort to finish the job of expanding broadband coverage with a focus on rural areas, the Delta and south Arkansas, and to strengthen roads and bridges and invest in water infrastructure.

He said said he supports the idea of cutting taxes, but he questioned whether the state should cut support for programs supporting law enforcement officers, public schools and health care in rural areas to help pay for eliminating the individual income tax.

Jones said he wants to support mom-and-pop shops with tax incentives and provide other regional support, such as the Eliza Miller Opportunity Hub in Helena-West Helena. He said he wants to continue with the state’s financial technology accelerator and create an agriculture technology accelerator and transportation and logistics technology accelerator to support ideas becoming companies and growing.

He said Hutchinson has done a good job of recruiting industry and Jones wants to increase the focus on the Delta, south Arkansas and rural Arkansas.

Jones said he supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion, and he opposes additional restrictions on abortion..

Asked whether he would support teaching critical race theory in the public schools, Jones said in August that, “I struggle because it is a boogie man that doesn’t exist.

“Critical race theory is taught in advanced-level law classes.”

Information for this article was contributed by Will Langhorne and Tess Vrbin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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