Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced today she is running for governor in 2022.

This has been self-evident for weeks and I’ve been saying so for weeks.

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The question is what prompted an official announcement today?

She posted her announcement on a Facebook page, in time to hit the 6 p.m. newscasts:

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Today I am announcing my candidacy for Governor of Arkansas in 2022. While this announcement is much earlier than I had originally planned, we must prepare for the future of our great State. I remain committed to continue working closely with my friend Governor Asa Hutchinson over the next two and a half years to keep our citizens safe and get our economy working at full capacity while at the same time helping to elect Republicans in 2020 including our President Donald J. Trump,” said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “As Governor, I will work to make Arkansas first in everything from job growth to tax reform to ensuring first-class education for every child regardless of zip code or economic status. I will continue to fight for our faith, families and freedoms.”

 

In recent days, it’s become apparent that Rutledge was itching to get the word out that she was in the race and that she was in it even if Sarah Huckabee Sanders eventually declares she’s in the race.

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I was counseled by a friend two weeks ago that 1) Rutledge was definitely in 2) her friendly relationship with Sanders (Rutledge campaigned for Mike Huckabee in his presidential bids) wouldn’t stand in the way 3) she was privy to independent polling that showed decent numbers for her and Sanders and terrible numbers for Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, who’s hard at work running for the job, too.

The thinking seemed to be that Rutledge would have preferred to put off overt campaigning until next year, or at least later this year, but Griffin’s aggressive fund-raising and campaigning through bogus “town halls” might have moved her schedule up. (I’ve been told the Hutchinson administration has told its members to not participate in Griffin’s thinly-veiled campaign events after getting some high-profile help from the likes of Asa’s bonus baby Mike Preston earlier in the year.) Or maybe Sanders is nearing a decision. If so, she’s chosen a funny way to do it, with ever more outrageous defenses of Trump’s lies as his numbers fall nationwide, including in blood-red Arkansas. Or does this mean Sanders will throw in with Rutledge?

Rutledge will catch some heat from the $1.7 million she spent in fiscal 2020 on publicly financed advertising featuring her prominently. She insists the “Rutledge Report” ads are effective in bringing consumer complaints to her office and amount to a pittance against money raised by lawsuits her office wins for the state. But she’s outspent everybody else who’s done the same and the ads’ tiresome ubiquity has become a sore point with many TV viewers. She’s flooded every station that covers Arkansas during the news hours. There’s every indication she’ll continue advertising her office, but I predict those ads will have a new look in the days ahead, perhaps not featuring the face of a now-declared gubernatorial candidate.

I also predict some potential hardball eventually with Tim Griffin, a veteran political hitman himself. For example: What does he do specifically for a living as a political consultant? Who pays his bills while he’s running for office?

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Sen. Jim Hendren is also considering the race. He’ll start at a huge disadvantage on name recognition and earn no points in a Republican primary with his occasional bows to partisanship on things like Medicaid expansion (which Rutledge is trying to kill) and some bows to racial healing. Racism is a core of the Trump re-election campaign and with Sanders, still unannounced but expected to run, and Rutledge, you have two all-out Trumpers.

Of course, Griffin is now a professed all-Trumper-all-the-time, too. He even claimed he was a Trump delegate at the 2016 Republican National Convention, which, I am reliably assured, he was not. He was a Bushie, then a Rubio man, but he has a wet thumb and can detect the wind as necessary.

Sanders can’t run from her Trump association should his numbers continue to fall. Griffin and Rutledge might have some wiggle room. Hendren certainly would. But, again, the Republican primary is the first hurdle.