LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Wednesday she’s running for governor in 2022, setting up a potentially crowded and expensive Republican primary.
Rutledge is the second candidate to announce a bid to succeed Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin has also said he’s running, while former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Senate President Jim Hendren have said they’re considering runs.
“I think it’s important we focus on the future of the state of Arkansas,” Rutledge told The Associated Press. Rutledge said she was announcing earlier than expected but said, “that way the people of Arkansas recognize they have a choice and a choice in a proven record.”
Rutledge was first elected attorney general in 2014 and won re-election in 2018. She’s aligned herself with President Donald Trump, including signing on to a lawsuit that seeks the repeal of the federal health overhaul. Rutledge has also defended the state’s abortion restrictions and its efforts to execute multiple inmates before a lethal injection drug expired in 2017.
Rutledge had been viewed as a likely candidate for governor and ramped up spending on public service announcements featuring her talking about vaping and other issues.
In a news release announcing her bid, Rutledge said that as governor she would “work to make Arkansas first in everything from job growth to tax reform to ensuring first class-education for every child regardless of zip code or economic status.”
Griffin has also appeared in TV ads paid for by a nonprofit promoting lower taxes and STEM education.
“I welcome Leslie to the governor’s race and will continue to take my conservative message of growing jobs through lower taxes and fighting wasteful spending to all 75 counties in Arkansas,” Griffin said in a statement.
But Sanders’ possible candidacy has overshadowed the race, and the president’s former chief spokeswoman has been getting reacquainted with her home state through visits to GOP dinners around Arkansas. Sanders’ father, Mike Huckabee, served as the state’s governor for 10 1/2 years.
Sanders, who couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, has said she’s seriously considering the race but is focused on helping elect Trump and other Republicans. She and her husband in May launched a nonprofit to offer forgivable loans to small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Hendren, who is also Hutchinson’s nephew, said he doesn’t have a timeline for deciding.
“I think people are ready for perhaps a different approach from what we’ve seen so far,” he said.
Arkansas is a solidly Republican state where the GOP holds all statewide and federal offices, and a majority of both chambers of the Legislature.
No Democratic candidates have yet announced plans to run for governor.