Sarah Huckabee Sanders elected first female governor of Arkansas

Jones concedes, congratulates Sanders in Wednesday statement

Sarah Huckabee Sanders blows a kiss to a supporter following her victory remarks Tuesday evening at an election watch party in the Wally Allen Ballroom at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock. The Associated Press declared her the winner almost immediately after the polls closed; later returns bore out that call. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate/11/08/2022)

Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee and former White House press secretary, was elected Arkansas' first female governor of Arkansas on Tuesday. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

*This story was updated at 2:04 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, with complete but unofficial vote totals from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former White House press secretary, was elected Arkansas governor on Tuesday.

Sanders, whose father served as Arkansas governor from 1996-2007, is the first woman elected to lead the state.

The Little Rock Republican defeated Democrat Chris Jones and Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. in a race that she was heavily favored to win from the start.

With 73 of 75 counties reporting, the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday showed:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R)
566,756 63.1%
Chris Jones (D)
314,762 35.1%
Ricky Harrington (LIB)
16,554 1.8%

“At the end of the day, this campaign was never about me,” Sanders said in a speech to a packed ballroom of supporters Tuesday night. “It was about you. It was about all the people across the state of Arkansas, the people who showed up at our events, the people who made calls, the people who knocked doors, and frankly, even the people who did not vote for me.”

She enjoyed the backing of her former boss, former President Donald J. Trump.

She’ll succeed term-limited Gov. Asa Hutchinson, marking the first time that Republicans have been elected back-to-back to Arkansas’ top elected office since Reconstruction.

Sanders in her victory speech quipped that she hopes to take the title of “best governor” from her father in due time.

“I like to say my dad is the best governor Arkansas has ever had, one of the best governors the country has ever seen, and I’m hoping to take that title away from him pretty soon,” she said.

Sanders’ campaign broke numerous fundraising and spending records, and she campaigned on fighting the “radical left.”

She offered a handful of policy priorities, namely public safety and primary education, but the governor’s race lacked the detailed policy proposals of past gubernatorial campaigns.

Sanders mostly avoided the traditional news media during her campaign, and she took a brief break from the campaign trail in September to undergo treatment for thyroid cancer, which her doctor said in a statement had been eradicated.

She will take office in January.

Sanders mentioned in her speech that the race was set to make history regardless of the result. Jones was the state’s first Black gubernatorial nominee from a major party and would have been the first Black governor if elected.

Jones did not concede in a rousing speech to his supporters later Tuesday night, almost two hours after Sanders’ speech. However, he did concede the race in a campaign news release late Wednesday morning.

Democratic candidate for governor Chris Jones speaks to supporters at an election watch party at Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock Tuesday night. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate/11/08/202)
Democratic candidate for governor Chris Jones speaks to supporters at an election watch party at Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock Tuesday night. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate/11/08/2022)

“The math is clear and the results of the race are clear,” Jones said in a statement. “I congratulate Governor-Elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders on her history-making election as the first woman elected governor of Arkansas.

“Our state was poised to make history no matter the results. Arkansas would either elect the first African American or the first female governor. History was made. Sarah’s election has shown women, including my little girls, that being a woman is no longer a barrier to becoming governor in our state. ”

Jones’ campaign focused on “PB&J” — preschool, broadband and jobs — and he visited all 75 Arkansas counties while campaigning in both the primary and general elections.

“We walked every street in this state, and we’re going to count every last vote in this race because Arkansas deserves it,” he said in his Tuesday speech.

A pastor and physicist from Pine Bluff, Jones preached a message of love in his campaign and reiterated it Tuesday.

“My Bible tells me that we are all God’s children,” he said. “So when we are all God’s children, we will fight for all God’s children, and in that fight we are going to achieve freedom’s promise. And so I want to tell you that whatever happens in this count, y’all watch out, because we’ve built something.”

He concluded his speech with “I am Chris Jones and I ain’t going nowhere” to thunderous applause.

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Hunter Field, Arkansas Advocate
Hunter Field, Arkansas Advocate

Hunter Field is a veteran Arkansas journalist whose reporting on the state has carried him from military air strips in northwest Arkansas to soybean fields in the Arkansas delta. He spent the better part of the last decade investigating and reporting on Arkansas government and politics. For three years, he covered education policy, medical marijuana and the Arkansas General Assembly as part of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Capitol Bureau. Most recently, he was the Democrat-Gazette's projects editor, leading the newspaper's investigative team. Hunter got his start in journalism covering sports for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. A Memphis native, he enjoys smoking barbecue, kayaking and fishing in his free time.

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Tess Vrbin, Arkansas Advocate
Tess Vrbin, Arkansas Advocate

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. A Midwesterner by birth, she graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 2019.

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