It’s a ways off, but the 2022 race for Arkansas governor could be even more interesting than the one that could have occurred in 2006.
That year, Gov. Mike Beebe easily defeated Asa Hutchinson – perhaps you’ve seen that guy lately – when the state was still dominated by Democrats. Man, that’s ancient history. Beebe won, 56-41 percent.
Before that, Hutchinson was set to face Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller in the Republican primary, which would have been extremely competitive. Hutchinson had been one of the state’s most prominent Republicans for decades, while Rockefeller had earned much party goodwill by raising money to rescue it from some financial problems. However, some in the party thought he might be too moderate and insufficiently pro-life. Then, Hutchinson was the party’s right-winger. Again, ancient history.
I should tell you I was Rockefeller’s communications director in his state Capitol office.
If Rockefeller had won the nomination, he would have offered Beebe a much tougher challenge. Money would have been no issue, of course. And his father, Winthrop Rockefeller, had won two terms as governor in the 1960s when the state was even more Democratic than it was in 2006.
But Win got sick, left the race and died. Beebe started his acceptance speech by saying Win might have won the election if that hadn’t happened. It was a gracious thing to say in the crowning moment of his political career.
Now Hutchinson is nearing the end of his final term as governor. And even though we still have a presidential election in front of us, the 2022 governor’s race has started taking shape.
Last week, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced she is running. She has long been considered a likely candidate by Capitol watchers, and she has been a very visible attorney general. I thought she might take a job or appointment in the Trump administration’s second term, but perhaps she’s always planned to run for governor, and besides, his poll numbers indicate a job or appointment might not be available.
I also thought Rutledge wouldn’t enter the race if Sarah Huckabee Sanders did. Sanders became a celebrity serving as President Trump’s spokesperson, and she left the administration on good terms, which often doesn’t happen. Like Rutledge, she could make history as the state’s first woman governor. She could also follow in her dad Mike Huckabee’s footsteps and move back into her childhood home, the Governor’s Mansion. But she can make a lot of money right now as a speaker, author and Fox News contributor, and she may have other personal reasons to stay out of this race. So we await her decision.
Already in the race is Lt. Governor Tim Griffin, who has spent years laying the groundwork for the 2022 campaign. Another potential candidate is state Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, a legislative leader and Hutchinson’s nephew.
Other names could surface. The past few months have shown how important governors can be, and unlike members of Congress they don’t have to fly back and forth to Washington. During an appearance in 2018, Mike Huckabee said being governor is “the best job in the world,” to which Beebe immediately agreed. Huckabee said governors more than other elected officials can turn their ideas into reality.
An open governor’s seat doesn’t come along very often. If a person has long wanted the job, it could be now or never.
The Democrats also must find a candidate; in fact, they should find at least two given what happened earlier this year when their only U.S. Senate candidate dropped out hours after the filing deadline had passed.
One possibility would be radio personality and “Dancing with the Stars” winner Bobby Bones, who hasn’t expressed a clear party allegiance but sounds like he could be a Democrat. After Rutledge’s announcement, Bones tweeted, “I can beat her,” which came after an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette profile months ago where he showed an interest in running.
Bones and Sanders would occupy the celebrity lanes, while Griffin, Rutledge and Hendren would be more conventional candidates. That would be interesting. Or it could just be Griffin versus Rutledge versus whoever the Democrats can find.
In other words, it could be like 2006, where what could have been would be more interesting than what actually happens.