The 39-year-old former White House press secretary enjoyed the support of former President Donald Trump and easily dispatched her only Republican opponent long after clearing the way for other serious contenders for the Republican Party.
Returning to the governor’s mansion would be a homecoming for Sanders after spending her teenage years in that house as the former governor’s daughter. Mike Huckabee – A pastor who led the state for more than 10 years. Sanders was the first daughter in US history to serve as governor of the same state that her father once led.
“The only thing that can stop Sarah Sanders from becoming Arkansas governor is an invasion of Mars,” Arkansas Republican strategist Bill Vickery said ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
Trump won Arkansas by 28 points in 2020.
With her deep political connections in Arkansas, and her experience as a seasoned political activist and patriot having built her as a press secretary and later as a contributor to Fox, she quickly established herself as the favorite to win after entering the race in January 2021.
But Vickery said the core of her relationship with the electorate was the fact that she had been in the public eye since her pre-teen years, beginning with her father’s 1992 Senate elections, followed by his time as lieutenant governor, and then as governor.
“I sort of grew up in front of everyone in Arkansas. Then as President Trump’s spokesperson,” Vickery said, “the vast majority of Arkansas voters, who are Republicans, saw that what they felt was significant mistreatment of her by national press and popular culture figures — They saw her stand up to it.”
But back home, her treatment in Washington was considered harsh by many Arkans residents.
Consolidation of Republican Party support
But her popularity in the red state of Arkansas showed how receptive voters were to her fightback and unrepentant defense of Trump in the role.
Trump’s endorsement of Sanders has given greater incomes to thousands of small dollar donors, as backed by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
“She’s been an unstoppable force all along,” said Janine Barry, a professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, noting that Sanders has emerged at a very different political moment than her father, taking advantage of Arkansas’ transition from an overwhelmingly Democratic state. To a strong republic since 2010.
“She’s an accomplished activist. We don’t know much about her public policy positions, at least at the state level, but of course in this climate it doesn’t really matter.”
Sanders’ campaign did not respond to CNN’s requests for an interview.
Democrats are likely to end up with their own charismatic candidate in Chris Jones, a nuclear minister and engineer who earned a Ph.D. in urban planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But Barry, who is also director of the Arkansas referendum at the university, said it would be difficult for any Democrat to break “38% at best” in November given the Republican Party’s dominance within the state.
As voters struggle with rising gas and groceries prices, Sanders has also campaigned to begin phasing out the state’s income tax, though she hasn’t set a timetable or specified the specific cuts she will make on existing programs. In the clear, made-for-television audio clips that have become her hallmark, she suggested that she would create a “wage increase” for Arkansas that would offset the “wage cuts” they were experiencing through inflation, adopting the GOP’s argument that the Biden administration’s policies had made inflation worse.
Jones, the Democratic candidate, told CNN he was not opposed to the income tax cuts, but that as a mathematician he did not “see the work” of the Sanders campaign around the cuts needed to make complete phase-out possible.
Contesting against four other Democrats in the primaries, Jones argues that the Arkansans will eventually reject what he describes as Sanders’ campaign message of fear, lies and divisive politics and embrace what his “PB&J” agenda calls – preschool, broadband and jobs.
“We know that there is fraud in every election,” she told the newspaper. “How far and wide it has gone, I don’t think that’s going to be something that will ever be determined.”
Political tactic jumps to the candidate
Sanders’ ease of deflecting questions in such a way that they are open to broad interpretation is a political skill that has been instrumental in her ascent. Several Arkansas political strategists said that one of the most overlooked aspects of her campaign was her depth of knowledge of the state as a political tactic.
In her memoir “Speak for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Struggle of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House,” Sanders notes that she spent most of her childhood on the Arkansas festival circuit campaigning with her father. It was a course that included a chuck wagon, a frog, and turtles, and a Gillette Coon dinner where she said that One should eat a raccoon to avoid offending the hosts — “I loved it,” she wrote. By the time she was an undergraduate at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, she was spending summers touring the state as a field officer for her father’s 2002 reelection campaign and organizing a statewide RV tour.
After two years in the George W. Bush administration, Sanders helped run her father’s 2008 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, and later served as his campaign manager in 2016. In the early days of that first presidential campaign when she was 24, she wrote that she was “A scheduler, driver, forward team, digital director, press secretary (and) her father’s political director”—and ultimately running his Iowa operation—the rally he won. She later ran the 2010 US Senate campaign for the then-member of the House of Representatives. John Boozman of Arkansas helped him win the nomination directly in an eight-person field.
John Gilmore, an Arkansas-based political strategist who advises the governor, He remembers how Sanders took Bozeman’s place in one of his debates when he had a struggle: “How many other campaign managers actually stood for the candidate in a debate with the other candidates for the US Senate?” He asked before the primaries on Tuesday.
“She really had at that time the ability to speak in a way that was unique to the voters in Arkansas, and now it is completely different,” Gilmore said. “She’s a daughter of Arkansas. She knows the state better than anyone — and I think that’s why you’ve seen support rally around her.”
This story was updated Tuesday with CNN’s predictions in the race.