Race for Arkansas governor heats up between Chris Jones and Sarah Huckabee Sanders




Arkansas gubernatorial Democratic nominee Chris Jones is closing the gap against his Republican opponent Sarah Huckabee Sanders ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm election.

According to a local poll, Sanders currently holds an 11% lead against the Democrat. However, Jones remains hopeful and believes he still has a shot at becoming the state’s first Black governor.

Chris Jones Sarah Huckabee Sanders Arkansas
Left to right: Democratic nominee for Arkansas governor Chris Jones and Republican nominee Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Getty Images)

In an interview with theGrio, Jones conceded that Sanders, the former White House press secretary for former President Donald Trump — or as he described her, “the [former] mouthpiece for the Trump machine” — has “a ton of money and 100% name recognition.” 

“What [people] don’t see is that [Sanders] spent over almost $6 million and her favorability actually went down,” said Jones. “What they don’t see is that on the ground, Arkansans are yearning for someone who cares about them and wants to solve problems.”

Sanders, who served as Trump’s presidential spokesperson from 2017 to 2019, is making her bid to be elected to the same office once held by her father, Mike Huckabee, who served as the governor of Arkansas for nearly a decade. A health scare recently marred her campaign as Sanders announced in September that she underwent surgery following a thyroid cancer diagnosis.

Jones, a Black man with little name recognition compared to Sanders in a state where the African-American population is less than 16%, is currently canvassing the entire state including all 75 counties for voter support. He’s told Arkansans that he is on a mission to “create a better future” for them and their families. 

Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told theGrio that although Jones is not the kind of “scary Democrat” that Arkansans would say, ‘oh hell no we don’t want that,’” he expected the poll margins between the two candidates to be much wider. 

Chris Jones Arkansas
Executive Director of Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub Dr. Christopher Jones speaks onstage during the 2018 Concordia Annual Summit – Day 2 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 25, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

The conservative political strategist believes this signals that Jones is in a good spot in the race and could have a better chance of winning the election in four years. Steele, who notably voted for President Joe Biden over his own party leader, Donald Trump, in the 2020 presidential election said that he met Jones previously and feels he “presents a very different picture of the Democratic Party,” adding “people consider his policy decisions. He is not a gadfly.” 

As for the top issues of his gubernatorial campaign, Jones said “there are a lot of cross-cutting issues that matter. Voting rights, health care access, climate change, and yet the message that we drive on a day-to-day basis, every place we go is that we need to spread PB and J [preschool, broadband and jobs] across the state.” 

He knows from personal experience that real solutions are needed. Jones recalled as a child his family struggled and lived off food stamps. 

“I remember cars getting repossessed and my parents working hard,” he shared. “My mom, [who was] a lifelong educator, even when we barely had enough food on the table for us, she made sure that she went out and helped feed somebody else. That’s what Arkansans are about.”

The last time Arkansas elected a Democratic governor was in 1978 when former President Bill Clinton defeated his Republican opponent Lynn Lowe. At that time, Clinton made history and became the youngest governor in the country. Jones said Clinton inspired him to run for governor when he was just 8 years old.

Governor of Arkansas and democrate candidate Bill Clinton campaigning for presidency in Orlando. (Photo by Ira Wyman/Sygma via Getty Images)

“We ran into Bill Clinton. He was governor at the time. I was fascinated by him. And I said, ‘Dad, what does he do? And my dad said, ‘he’s a governor.’ I said, ‘What’s a governor?’ And what did my dad say?: ‘Go look it up.’” 

“We went to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and I found out that a governor could serve people and make a difference in people’s lives,” he recalled.

While Jones may be seen as the underdog in his race against a more well-known Sanders in a red state like Arkansas, there’s still hope. Roughly 7-8% of Arkansas voters are undecided and could play a major part in which candidate becomes the state’s next governor.

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