By STEVE BRAWNER
Why is Asa Hutchinson still in the presidential race when he’s polled lower than other candidates who are now dropping out? After filing for the race in person at the Arkansas State Capitol Friday, he said he believes the country needs him, that his party needs him, and that he can’t win if he’s not on the ballot.
“You’ve got to make those decisions,” he said. “You’ve got to say you’re either in or you’re out, and I’m in.”
Speaking to the several dozen who were assembled on a quiet observed Veterans Day, he pointed to the shaky economy, a federal government that is printing too much money, threats of war and threats to U.S. leadership abroad, an unsecured southern border, the fentanyl drug crisis, and other issues needing attention.
“This is a nation at risk, and that is why I’m running for president because I bring to the table the skill set, I bring to the campaign the experience that is needed to address each of those challenges,” said the former governor, member of Congress, director of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and undersecretary of homeland security for border and transportation security.
It’s been a tough campaign where Hutchinson has not gained much traction. Victory, he said, requires “consistent persistency.”
He said it’s important that the race have a candidate who offers practical solutions, especially at a time when not everyone in his party always does.
With his wife, Susan, at his side, he answered reporters’ questions about why he’s still in the race. He said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu had told him voters in his early voting state don’t decide until after Thanksgiving, so now is not the time to quit. Furthermore, he said it’s an unpredictable election where the party’s current frontrunner could become a convicted felon next year or perhaps could be disqualified under the 14th Amendment for engaging in insurrection or rebellion.
By paying the $25,000 filing fee in Arkansas, he said he was sending a clear signal that he still will be in the race when the vote occurs here on March 5.
If the size of the sparse crowd disappointed him, he didn’t show it – and he could have been disappointed. Perhaps more than any other Arkansan, Hutchinson kept the state Republican Party alive for years while other conservatives simply ran as Democrats. Despite all that work, I only saw one Republican elected official there – state Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe.
“Friendships are stronger than political headwinds,” Dismang told me. “There’s not a Republican in this state that he has not assisted, and you have to credit him for where we are as a party. You have to. When I first ran for state representative, he came to a fundraiser that I had without invitation, brought a check, supported me when I couldn’t get the chairman of the Republican Party to come and support me.”
Hutchinson lost five elections in those years when Arkansas was dominated by Democrats. I asked him if he was drawing on those experiences now.
He paused and then answered, “The political road is paved with ups and downs. It’s paved with defeats and victories, and it’s not for the faint-hearted, and it’s a full contact sport. And I’m doing this not because I need something to do. I’m not doing this because it pays huge dividends. I’m doing this because we have a nation at risk, and I’ve devoted my life in building a Republican Party that stands for something. And I don’t like seeing the Republican Party hijacked and turned into something that is not based upon principle, but it’s based upon personality.
“But more importantly, I’m concerned about a nation at risk under the leadership of President Biden. And whenever you look at my experience and my consistent conservatism and my ability to lead during times of crisis, our country needs this.
“So I offer myself. We’ll see where it goes. There’s no guarantees in this business, and if there’s anything I’ve learned in life, I can accept defeat because I’m in it for the common good. But the voters will make those decisions, and we’ll see exactly where this goes, but it’s going to be based upon effort, it’s going to be based upon conviction, and it’s going to be based upon what everybody in this room says.”
Sounds like he’s in.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.