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Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson ends his 2024 campaign after sixth-place finish in Iowa caucuses

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a caucus site in Clive, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.
AP Photo
Andrew Harnik
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a caucus site in Clive, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.

From the Associated Press:

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson dropped his long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, ending a candidacy that served as a throwback to an earlier era of the GOP but ultimately failed to resonate in a party now dominated by Donald Trump.

Hutchinson’s exit came a day after he finished sixth in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses, well behind Trump and other top rivals but also behind Ryan Binkley, a pastor who failed to qualify for any of the debates. Hutchinson was the last GOP candidate remaining in the race who was willing to directly take on Trump.

“I congratulate Donald J. Trump for his win last night in Iowa and to the other candidates who competed and garnered delegate support,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “Today, I am suspending my campaign for President and driving back to Arkansas. My message of being a principled Republican with experience and telling the truth about the current front runner did not sell in Iowa.”

Hutchinson’s campaign manager, Alison WIlliams, said he wasn’t issuing an endorsement at this time.

During the campaign, he failed to register beyond a single percentage point in most polls and drew sparse crowds even as the Republican presidential field winnowed from more than a dozen candidates down to a handful. Another competitor, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, dropped out of the race Monday night after finishing fourth in Iowa.

Hutchinson stayed in the race even as better-financed and well-known candidates such as former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott dropped out last year.

During the first debate, Hutchinson was booed by some audience members when he said he wouldn’t support Trump if he was convicted in any of his four criminal cases, and he questioned whether the former president was disqualified from holding office because of his role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

“I am not going to support somebody who’s been convicted of a serious felony or who is disqualified under our Constitution,” Hutchinson said.

He failed to meet the qualifications for the next four presidential debates, an unwelcome development that denied him needed exposure.

Before entering the race, he called another Trump White House run the “worst scenario” for the GOP and said the former president’s call to terminate parts of the Constitution hurt the country.

He objected to the Republican National Committee’s requirement that candidates support the eventual nominee in order to qualify for the debate stage, though he ultimately signed the pledge. Hutchinson said the party should instead require hopefuls to vow to not run as a third-party candidate.

Hutchinson, whose candidacy harked back to an earlier era of the Republican Party, preferred dry policy discussions or appearances on Sunday talk shows to boisterous rallies or Twitter fights. Although he’s been a fixture in Arkansas politics going back decades, he was little known outside his home state.

He was crowded out by other better-known candidates who had competing appeals to GOP voters. His criticisms of Trump were overshadowed by similar comments from Chris Christie, the former governor from New Jersey.

After Christie dropped out of the race days before Iowa’s caucuses, Hutchinson commended him for speaking “the hard truth” and “highlighting the risks of a Donald Trump presidency,” noting the high political price he paid.

“As for me,” Hutchinson said in a statement, “I am competing for votes in the Iowa caucuses and I plan to beat expectations here. I remain the only candidate who has not promised a pardon to Donald Trump and my voice continues to be critical in this race.”

Hutchinson joins Ramaswamy, Christie, Pence, Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, radio show host Larry Elder, businessman Perry Johnson, former Texas congressman Will Hurd and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in suspending his bid for the GOP nomination.

He formally launched his campaign in April in Bentonville, the northwest Arkansas town where he got his start as an attorney and first ran unsuccessfully for elected office.

Hutchinson had used the city, which is also retail giant Walmart’s home, to portray himself as a business-friendly conservative. He had contrasted that with DeSantis, who has been engaged in a bitter public feud with Disney in Florida.

Hutchinson, who finished his two terms as Arkansas governor in 2023, is also a former congressman who served as one of the House managers prosecuting the impeachment case against former President Bill Clinton.

Previously, Hutchinson served in former President George W. Bush’s White House as the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and as an undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He was also a federal prosecutor in Arkansas in the 1980s.

Hutchinson touted his law enforcement experience as unique, especially in addressing issues such as immigration and border security. He also cited it when talking about Trump’s legal woes.

Hutchinson, who had led a task force for the National Rifle Association that called for armed and trained school personnel after the Sandy Hook school shooting, found a less than enthusiastic reception when he appeared before the group’s annual convention after launching his bid. He drew at least one yelled obscenity from the Trump-friendly crowd after he suggested Biden was “praying” for a rematch with Trump in 2024 and declared, “We don’t need a rerun of 2020.”

He had also pointed to his history of signing multiple abortion restrictions into law as governor, including a near-total ban that took effect when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. But Hutchinson stopped short of saying whether he’d support a six- or 15-week ban as president before telling conservatives he would sign into law a federal restriction.

Hutchinson, who as governor had vetoed a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, had during the campaign highlighted other restrictions he’d supported on transgender youth.

Andrew DeMillo is the Capitol Correspondent for the Little Rock bureau of The Associated Press.