The recent campaign finance reports in the Arkansas governor’s race offered what was expected among Republicans and suspected among Democrats.
In the race for the Republican nomination, Sarah Huckabee Sanders raised $4.2 million in the quarter, which was 19.5 times the $215,000 raised by her opponent, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
Sanders so far has raised $9.1 million. Most of that was designated for the party primary, which is still 10 months away.
Rutledge’s numbers were higher than I thought they would be. I had assumed her donations would dry up as everyone jumped on the Sanders bandwagon. Her press release noted she had hired five campaign staff members during the second quarter.
If Rutledge wants to be the next governor of Arkansas, of course she should stay in the race and ignore what political pundits like me say. She’s the one in the arena, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, while I’m merely a commentator. Unexpected things can happen in politics, and she might be the nominee after all.
So please assign the next couple of speculative paragraphs the weight they deserve, which is basically zero.
If she didn’t run for governor, what else could she run for? She could campaign for the United States Senate against incumbent Sen. John Boozman. That race already has several candidates, but there is a lane open for Rutledge: more identified with former President Donald Trump than Boozman, and also more experienced and more established than the other Trump-supporting challengers. She also could run in the same lane for the U.S. House of Representatives.
The other office that would be a possibility would be lieutenant governor. That’s a step down from attorney general, and that race already has four established Republican candidates. Rutledge could distinguish herself by promising Republican primary voters that, with Sanders, the state would have two strong Arkansas women ready to oppose President Joe Biden and other out-of-staters from the political left.
While Sanders’ dominance in the Republican primary was expected, Chris Jones’ dominance in the Democratic primary was only strongly suspected. Jones had made a splash when he announced his candidacy June 15 and had already announced July 1 that he had raised more than $575,000 in only two weeks. His actual total was $582,847.
That announcement offered a strong hint that Democrats might coalesce around Jones early. They would love to find a candidate who could defeat Sanders, the Arkansan most closely associated with Trump, or at least compete with her.
Jones, who is trying to become the state’s first African American statewide elected official, has an impressive background as a nuclear engineer and entrepreneurship supporter. He’s the kind of candidate that party might want to support as it tries to reverse recent elections where statewide Democrats aren’t even winning 40 percent of the vote.
One of Jones’ opponents, Supha Xayprasith-Mays, would also seem to be that type of candidate. She has a compelling life story as an immigrant from Laos whose family fled communism, and she has extensive business experience. But she only raised $7,400. The other candidates, teacher Anthony Bland and businessman James Russell III, raised less than she did. Bland had only been in the race for a week before the filing deadline, but that was only one week less than Jones had been.
Among the Democrats, Jones is the only candidate raising enough money to wage an effective campaign so far. So just as I speculated earlier about Rutledge’s other potential paths, I’ll do it here. Democrats don’t have a candidate for lieutenant governor yet. Xayprasith-Mays could drop down to that race and promise to help Jones move Arkansas in a new direction.
That’s enough speculation and what-if playing for now. Let’s repeat the numbers: Sanders raised 19.5 times as much as her closest competitor, while Jones raised 79 times as much as his.
There’s still a long way to go, but it’s safe not only to suspect we’ll be looking at a Sanders vs. Jones matchup, but to expect it.