Hutchinson running for president, formal announcement later this month

Formal announcement in Bentonville planned for this month

President Donald Trump meets with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, left, and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
President Donald Trump meets with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, left, and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON -- Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson will run for president in 2024, he told ABC News on Sunday.

A spokesperson for Hutchinson's campaign confirmed to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Hutchinson's intent to run and said it would begin with an April 26 event in Bentonville.

Hutchinson made his intentions clear Sunday following months of speculation and had teased of a pending announcement. He spent part of last week speaking in Iowa, a key state in the presidential election season.

"As I've traveled the country for six months, I hear people talk about the leadership of our country," he said. "I'm convinced people want leaders that appeal to the best of America, and not simply appeal to our worst instincts."

Hutchinson, 72, enters the race with experience in state and federal politics. A former Arkansas Republican Party chairman, Hutchinson represented the state's 3rd Congressional District from January 1997 to August 2001, which included serving as a manager during the impeachment trial of fellow Arkansan and then-President Bill Clinton.

Hutchinson resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives to become administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He joined the Department of Homeland Security in January 2003 and served as the undersecretary on border and transportation security until March 2005.

Hutchinson ran for governor of Arkansas in 2006, losing to Democrat Mike Beebe. He sought the office again in 2014, winning that year's race and a 2018 bid for a second term. His record as governor includes income tax reductions, computer science education expansion and leading the state through the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a near-complete prohibition on abortion services and overhauling Arkansas' Medicaid program.

He left office in January because of term limits.

Prior to entering public office, Hutchinson served as U.S. attorney for Arkansas' Western District. He successfully prosecuted a white supremacist group -- The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord -- which involved negotiating an end to a standoff between the organization and law enforcement agencies.

"There's not a lot of people on the national stage that have served at all the different levels that he has served at," said Jon Gilmore, a longtime Hutchinson aide and chairman of a pro-Hutchinson super PAC.

"As you look at Gov. Hutchinson, I think his call to public service is clear. I think his call to serve is clear, and I think he wants to be an alternative. Whether that means he's successful or not in that run, I think, at the end of the day, he's doing it for the right reasons, which is the American people need to hear alternative voices to Joe Biden and former President [Donald] Trump."

Trump was the first Republican to enter the race when he announced a third presidential campaign in November. Following Trump's indictment by a Manhattan grand jury Thursday, Hutchinson -- a critic of Trump's denial of the 2020 election results -- called on Trump to drop out, striking a different tone from that of other Republicans who have labeled the inquiry a politically motivated affair.

"I think it's a sad day for America that we have a former president that's indicted," Hutchinson told ABC News. "It's a great distraction, but at the same time, we can't set aside what our Constitution requires, which is electing a new leader for our country, just because we have this side controversy and criminal charges that are pending."

Gilmore said he believes there is fatigue over Trump that will help Hutchinson's chances at a successful White House bid.

"I think at this time, it's time to move on. The people I talk to are ready to see change," he said.

Gilmore additionally drew from the experiences of himself and others in past election cycles when Republicans backed Trump after he became the party's presidential candidate.

"President Trump had his time. He actually had good policies for America, but his rhetoric was also damaging," he said. "At the end of the day, he had the opportunity [and] he lost the race for the presidency. I think he needs to go back and focus on his own issues that he's got going on in his life and his business and let someone else come to the forefront of the Republican Party."

Former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley launched her presidential campaign in February, as did entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Little Rock has opted not to run for president in 2024 after considering a possible White House bid.

More Republicans are expected to announce their presidential ambitions in the coming months. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has emerged as Trump's top opponent. The governor released a book last week, "The Courage to Be Free: Florida's Blueprint for America's Revival," laying out his vision for America.

"This is one of the most unpredictable political environments that I've seen in my lifetime," Hutchinson said.

"My message of experience, of consistent conservatism, of hope for our future and solving problems that face Americans, I think that resonates," he said. "Whenever I make the final announcement, I'll be everywhere, and I think it's a plan that can work in this environment."

Jamie Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, struck against Hutchinson's announcement, criticizing the former governor's record in office.

"After calling Donald Trump 'the kind of transparent, straight-talking leader America needs,' Asa Hutchinson now wants to rewrite history -- but his support for Trump and the MAGA agenda speaks for itself," Harrison said.

"As governor, Hutchinson signed one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, ripped health care away from thousands of Arkansans, and advocated for taking away the [Affordable Care Act's] protections for those with preexisting conditions. He's just another extremist joining the ever-expanding race for the MAGA base."

Other Arkansans who have run for president include retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark; former first lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is also the father of current Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Huckabee has already announced his endorsement of Trump.

Arkansas' Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs told the Democrat-Gazette that he welcomed the former governor's entry into the race.

"Governor Hutchinson is a lifetime Republican who fought for conservatism decades before Arkansas flipped almost overnight from a solid blue to a solid red state," Westerman said in a statement.

"From serving in the Reagan administration to Congress to the George W. Bush administration and eventually as Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson has always served with the highest character and integrity and will strengthen the 2024 presidential election by adding his service and accomplishments to the debate."

Sanders has not made any public endorsement regarding the presidential election. Sanders' position is unique in that she served as White House press secretary under Trump before succeeding Hutchinson as governor in January. When previously asked about 2024 and possibly endorsing Trump, she stated she was more focused on how to best serve Arkansans.

Hutchinson's interview with ABC News aired as Sanders and state officials continued to evaluate damage from Friday's tornadoes in Arkansas. Federal officials are working with Sanders and local leaders on assessing the storms' impact.

"The Governor is focused right now on helping Arkansans impacted by the storms as we work to recover and rebuild," Sanders spokesperson Alexa Henning told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sunday.

Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Cody Hiland issued a similar statement.

"I can certainly appreciate why you would ask, but presidential politics are the last thing on the minds of Arkansans as we continue recovering from a tornado that devastated parts of our state two days ago," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with folks in the Little Rock metro area and Wynne."

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