Sarah Sanders Brings National Angle To Arkansas Governor's Race, Political Scientist Says

Jan 26, 2021

Sanders' campaign video, released Monday, served as three ads in one, according to political scientist Heather Yates.
Credit Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, through a video announcement, declared her intent to run to become Arkansas’ next governor.

The nearly eight-minute video, released on Monday, touches on Sanders’ history of serving under President Donald Trump and growing up and living in Arkansas.

Heather Yates, assistant professor of political science at the University of Central Arkansas, says the video provided a "blueprint" on how Sanders will run her campaign.

“That first part of her video, where she’s announcing her candidacy, is about self-credentialing and then she defines the context in which why she is announcing herself as the gubernatorial candidate,” Yates said.

Sanders is being challenged for the Republican nomination by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Yates says Sanders’ entrance in the race does bring in a more national angle into the 2022 election as opposed to a more state-focused campaign.

"She’s got that national credential which is going to play to her benefit as she sees it. The reason why she’s framing it that way is largely to attract national campaign donations, right? Whereas Rutledge [has] immediately positioned herself as focusing on her record on state-based, state-focused-record as her tenure in office," Yates said.

Yates notes one thing Sanders didn’t mention in her campaign video was healthcare.

Below is the transcription of KUAR’s aired conversation with Yates.

YATES: Her announcement really comes with three separate campaign ads and she outlines her platform and her ideology there, but more specifically, she puts forth a very aggressive campaign playbook. She’s leaning strongly into Trump ideology under the GOP brand. And she uses phrases that we’ve heard from the Trump Administration and his campaign, referring to the campaign as a movement, talking about the "radical left," which is also a strategy employed by other GOP races. We saw this play out in the Georgia senate race. Kelly Loeffler referred to Democrats or characterized Democrats as the "radical left. We also see Sanders employing Arkansas exceptionalism on display. So she’s leaning into all of these different factors that has provided us a blueprint for how she’s going to run this campaign.

KUAR: It appears that she already has the endorsement of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Will these national names influence local votes?

YATES: I think right now with where we’re at on the political landscape, a lot that plays out nationally, will impact locally. For example, it was just a week ago that her father Mike Huckabee announced that he is relocating to Little Rock, presumably to help her campaign on the ground. Her father, that legacy is very well networked. So these national names are going to play well on the ground in Arkansas. It was very obvious and palatable on the ground in the 2020 campaign that the Trump support here is very very solid and still intact. So those elites queuing the voter base will play very well, but not only just to influence votes and support for Sanders, but fundraising. Those national endorsements will be successful or at least benefit the Sanders campaign and the Arkansas GOP with fundraising and party building.

KUAR: And you mention Mike Huckabee…So Sanders doesn’t have the experience of holding an elected office. She is the daughter of a former governor. How will she play this? Will she play this as an outsider? Will she play this as a daughter of Arkansas? What are your thoughts on that?

YATES: Based on the evidence she provided in her video, I anticipate that she is going to frame herself as the daughter of Arkansas. With all of the imagery of Arkansas exceptionalism on display and paraded through her announcement, I fully anticipate her to embrace that. She made lots of local references to being educated in Arkansas, starting her marriage in Arkansas, returning to Arkansas, calling Arkansas God’s country, all of this is really going to be at the core of how she identifies herself on the ground. I also believe that, whether she overtly leans into this or states this or not, it’s certainly going to be at play in some capacity that as Trump’s press secretary, she has been characterized as a defender of Trump and she very much embraced that as a defender of Arkansas, using the line that the governor is the last line of defense. So she gives a very combative posturing there that threads directly from her experience as press secretary. So I think we’re going to see a hybrid of her melding together her national experience and her local experience as being a daughter of a governor and just being a citizen of Arkansas.