This nuclear engineer wants to take on Sarah Huckabee Sanders for governor of Arkansas

June 16, 2021

The race to replace Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who cannot run again because of term limits, is gaining another candidate—a nuclear engineer who says he’s running as a Democrat to offer voters another alternative to the Trump brand of politics, NBC News reports.

Chris Jones, the former head of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a nonprofit organization based in North Little Rock, told NBC that he planned to announce his candidacy on Tuesday, June 15.

A political novice—he once served as student body president at Morehouse College, a historically Black university in Atlanta—Jones, 44, said he was turned off by the political divisions of the past few years.

“Our campaign is about lifting people up and building a fair Arkansas so there are opportunities for all of us,” he said, adding that “the reality of this moment in our nation’s history is that if we want our politics to be different, we have to be different.”

As a candidate, Jones will face Sarah Huckabee Sanders, familiar to most Americans as the press secretary who served under former President Donald Trump, who announced her bid for the 2022 governorship in Arkansas on January 25 of this year. State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge also is running on the GOP ticket.

Jones also will face several Democrats—among them, Anthony Bland, a teacher and the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Early polling and name recognition have given Sanders an edge, and Trump quickly endorsed her in January through his political action committee. Sanders already has raised nearly $5 million as she runs a campaign vowing to fight the “radical left” and federal government overreach.

Political observers say Jones, who is Black, could ride a wave of recent years in which people of color and from historically disenfranchised groups with limited political experience are getting elected to higher office.

“Jones is a native son. This is important because he’s not seen as an outsider,” said Najja Baptist, an assistant professor of Political Scienceat the University of Arkansas. “But what he’ll have to do is take the opposite approach of a Sanders: galvanize small donors and build a multicultural coalition.”

At the very least, Baptist said, this election may be a springboard to inspire a diverse group of people to run for office in a state that remains a conservative GOP stronghold.

“The question is how much of an impact can a young Black candidate make in this election, even if they don’t win?” he said.

Research contact: @NBCNews

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