Sarah Sanders, the former chief spokesperson for U.S. president Donald Trump and one of his closest aides, announced Monday she’s running for Arkansas governor, vying for political office even as the former president’s legacy is clouded by an impeachment charge that he incited the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The former White House press secretary, who left the job in 2019 to return to her home state, launched the bid less than a week after the end of Trump’s time in office and as the ex-president faces an impeachment trial.
Her announcement reflected how much she expected voters in solidly red Arkansas to embrace the former president, if not his rhetoric.
“With the radical left now in control of Washington, your governor is your last line of defence,” Sanders said in a video announcing her bid. “In fact, your governor must be on the front line. So today I announce my candidacy for governor of Arkansas.”
The daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sanders had been widely expected to run for the office after leaving the White House — and Trump publicly encouraged her to make a go of it. She’s been laying the groundwork for a candidacy, speaking to Republican groups around the state.
Sanders joins a Republican primary that already includes two statewide elected leaders, Lt.-Gov. Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. The three are running to succeed current Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who is unable to run next year due to term limits. No Democrats have announced a bid to run for the seat.
Questions about credibility as press secretary
Sanders launched her bid weeks after a riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol left five people dead. More than 130 people have been charged in the insurrection, which was aimed at halting the certification of President Joe Biden’s win over Trump.
Sanders was only the third woman to serve as White House press secretary. But she also faced questions about her credibility during her time as Trump’s chief spokesperson.
During her nearly two-year tenure, daily televised briefings led by the press secretary ended after Sanders repeatedly sparred with reporters who questioned her about administration policy and the investigation into possible co-ordination between Trump’s 2016 election campaign and Russia.
Trump’s tumultuous exit from the presidency may do little damage to Sanders in Arkansas. Republicans hold all of Arkansas’ statewide and federal seats, as well as a solid majority in both chambers of the legislature.
Solidly red state
Trump in November won the state by nearly 28 percentage points, one of the biggest margins in his ultimate loss to Biden. Sanders’s nearly eight-minute announcement video prominently features photos of Trump, along with references to his favourite targets, such as “cancel culture,” socialism and the Green New Deal.
Griffin and Rutledge have spent months positioning themselves ahead of Sanders’ announcement, lining up endorsements from the state’s top Republicans and raising funds. Combined, the two have raised more than $2.8 million US.
The race could get even more crowded. Republican State Sen. Jim Hendren, a nephew of Hutchinson’s, is considering a run for the seat.
Sanders, who published a book last year and joined Fox News as a contributor after leaving the White House, enters the race with a much higher profile than any of the candidates. She remains an unknown on many of the state’s biggest issues, though in her announcement she called for reducing state income taxes and cutting off funding for cities that violate immigration laws.