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Republican Asa Hutchinson announces he is running for president

The former Arkansas governor becomes the latest to join the GOP primary

Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson (R) announced April 2 that he will run for president in 2024. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson announced Sunday that he will run for president in 2024, a move that comes after the Republican has marketed himself as a more stable alternative to former president Donald Trump.

Hutchinson, 72, said he would make a formal announcement on April 26 in Bentonville, Ark., but wanted to clarify his intent ahead of that time.

“I’m concerned about what’s needed in our party and our nominee,” he said in an interview Sunday with The Washington Post. “I certainly take a different path than Donald Trump. And I see it’s time for different leadership.”

He first revealed his plans in an interview broadcast earlier in the day on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I’ve traveled the country for six months. I hear people talk about the leadership of our country. I’m convinced that people want leaders that appeal to the best of America, and not simply appeal to our worst instincts,” he said on ABC.

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Hutchinson also said on ABC that Trump, who has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, should drop out of the race because of that development. His comments set him apart from many of Trump’s rivals and other party leaders who rallied around Trump in the wake of the indictment.

“For the sake of the office of the presidency, I do think that’s too much of a sideshow and distraction, and he needs to be able to concentrate on his due process, and there is a presumption of innocence,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson told The Post on Sunday that the timing of his announcement, two days before Trump is expected to surrender to the authorities, was “coincidental.”

He will begin as an underdog in a field that includes Trump, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, and entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy. Trump is the clear polling leader, public opinion surveys show. Other Republicans, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, might also join the race in the coming months.

Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson (R) said April 2 that he believes former president Donald Trump should drop out of the 2024 race. (Video: The Washington Post)

“I do not have the same level of exposure or name ID as some others that are out there, and we’ve just got to build it,” Hutchinson told The Post.

He has butted heads with Trump before, including when he vetoed legislation banning gender-affirming care for minors in Arkansas, and he stood out among Republican governors for reconsidering the merits of mask mandates during the pandemic.

But he also maintained a starkly conservative record as governor, signing into a law a near-total abortion ban and backing a rush of executions. Now Hutchinson is making the case that Republican voters should pick him out of a growing field of GOP contenders, an argument that could be difficult to make for the unassuming former governor as other candidates vie for media attention, analysts said.

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The Arkansas native has spent much of his political career serving his state, beginning as a federal prosecutor under President Ronald Reagan and then as a congressman. Hutchinson was governor for eight years and left office on Jan. 10.

He served in President George W. Bush’s administration as the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and as an undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He also represented the state’s 3rd Congressional District, a seat that his brother, Tim, had previously held before becoming a U.S. senator. Asa Hutchinson was a House impeachment manager during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Since leaving the governor’s mansion, Hutchinson has spent much of his time promoting himself to voters outside his state. He has appeared on Sunday news talk shows and visited Iowa, South Carolina and Arizona. He told The Post in December before he left office that he had assembled a key policy team on the ideas he thinks are important for the country, referencing his America Strong and Free PAC, and that he was exploring a presidential bid.

He has tried to distinguish himself — but at the same time, he has also harshly criticized Trump, saying the Jan. 6, 2021, riot “disqualifies” the former president from returning to the White House.

“The temptation is to become the loudest voice in the room to draw more attention,” Hutchinson previously told The Post, appearing to reference Trump. “That’s not my style, and I don’t think that’s what the electorate expects.”

Hutchinson might encounter challenges in fundraising compared with other potential candidates from states with deeper-pocketed donors, such as DeSantis, said Robert Coon, a Republican strategist in Arkansas. Last year, his PAC raised more than $127,000, while DeSantis’s fundraising broke records in his reelection race, hauling in $200 million.

Hutchinson has contrasted himself with Trump in interviews. He was one of the most senior Republicans at the time to condemn a meeting Trump held with white supremacist and antisemite Nick Fuentes in November, comparing it to his prosecution of white supremacists in the Ozark Mountains when he was a U.S. attorney in the 1980s.

“The last time I met with a white supremacist, it was in an armed standoff; I had a bulletproof vest on. We arrested them, prosecuted them and sent them to prison,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash. “So no, I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader that’s setting an example for the country or the party to meet with [an] avowed racist or antisemite.”

As governor, Hutchinson established income tax cuts for individuals and corporations. He also signed an abortion ban that took effect when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year. Hutchinson later lamented signing the law, which did not include exceptions for rape and incest, saying it went against his personal beliefs.

Although he vetoed a bill banning gender-affirming services to transgender youth, a veto the legislature overrode, Hutchinson has faced criticism for his record on LGBTQ issues. He signed laws that banned transgender women and girls from competing on school sports teams and granted doctors and medical professionals the right to refuse medically necessary treatment to patients based on moral, ethical or religious grounds.

Rett Hatcher, a GOP strategist in Arkansas who previously worked as a legislative director for Hutchinson, said the Arkansas governor showed leadership qualities in his handling of the pandemic. Unlike Democratic-led counterparts, the state did not close down, but Hutchinson encouraged masking and vaccinations in ways other GOP governors did not, Hatcher said. Hutchinson’s daily televised news conferences were well-watched, Hatcher said.

“I think he is the same person in public that he is in private,” Hatcher said. “There’s an authenticity with him, and people respond to that.”

Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.