Chris Jones has had a pretty good couple of weeks.
The Democratic candidate for governor released his first primary campaign ad, which depicts his boyhood self growing up in Pine Bluff and pretending to be Luke Skywaker as he dreamed of going to space. It’s cute.
It’s his second good ad of the campaign cycle, the first being his introductory ad at the campaign’s start.
Jones didn’t go to space, but he did attend college on a NASA scholarship and became a nuclear engineer before earning a Ph.D. in urban planning. He ran the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, which supports small businesses. He’s married, a father of three girls, and a minister.
Jones told me he was a big Star Wars fan growing up who didn’t really see himself as Luke Skywalker, though he appreciates the character’s journey. His family had to rely on food stamps, but he was surrounded by supportive people who told him he was created for a purpose. He was trying to show in the ad what inspired him while growing up in Arkansas.
“The other thing that we wanted to show was that my narrative, my story, is pretty common,” he said. “There are kids all across the state who have dreams and aspirations that may seem impossible, but just with a little bit of support and coming together, they can realize those dreams.”
There’s a second reason Jones has had a pretty good run: He’s the only one of five Democrats seeking the governor’s office who can afford such an ad – or any ad.
In his latest campaign finance report, Jones reported he has raised more than $1.63 million so far for the primary campaign, of which he’s spent $1.57 million. He says he has a network of 2,000 volunteers.
The other four Democratic candidates – latecomer and former legislator Jay Martin, Supha Xayprasith-Mays, Anthony Bland and James Russell – have not raised much.
The question now becomes whether Jones will win the nomination during the primary May 24, or whether he will be forced into the June 21 runoff, when it will become a two-person race and voter turnout will be light. He said he has not run any polls, and neither has anyone else that I know of.
I said it was a good couple of weeks for Jones, but let’s not go overboard. The winner likely will face Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has raised more than $12.3 million for the primary and “only” spent $6.9 million. She’s also raised almost $2 million for the general election, of which she has spent nothing.
Then there’s Arkansas’ history, recent and ancient. The last Democratic candidate for governor, Jared Henderson, received less than 32 percent of the vote in 2018. The last time any Democrat reached 40 percent running statewide was 2014. Jones is also seeking to become Arkansas’ first African American elected to a statewide office.
He said he is not sure why that has not happened, but he says Arkansans are ready for someone who’ll listen.
He noted that he traveled to Harrison as part of his tour of all 75 counties. Harrison is home to a lot of good people, but it does have a racial history. It’s also Republican country, so he expected half a dozen people to meet him in a restaurant back room the campaign had reserved. Instead, he said, the whole restaurant was there to see him and gave him a standing ovation.
Jones said he is campaigning on a “P, B and J” platform: preschool education, broadband and jobs. He said resources are being clumped into central and Northwest Arkansas and should be spread across the state. He said Arkansas needs an international airport and high-speed rail. He’d like to see investment funds created to accelerate agricultural and transportation technology.
He said he’s trying to run an optimistic, inclusive campaign.
“I think we’re in that moment now where Arkansans are sick and tired of division and sick and tired of ‘otherism’ and sick of tired of the fear and the hatred,” he said. “I think they’re ready for leadership that is going to pull us together.”
He said he has a message that will help him connect with non-Democrats, and that he’s asking for everyone’s vote – including Sanders when they were both at the Capitol on filing day.
“She actually said, ‘Maybe,’ and we have it on tape,” he said.
I don’t think she was serious.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.