Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders becomes governor of Arkansas

(Andrew Harnik/AP)
(Andrew Harnik/AP)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former President Donald Trump’s press secretary and communications director, will win the Arkansas gubernatorial race, CNN projects.

She will be the first woman to be elected governor of Arkansas.

Huckabee Sanders defeated Democrat Chris Jones, a minister and former nonprofit leader who received a nuclear engineering degree from MIT.

Arkansas last elected a Democratic governor in 2010 and is now a solid Red state.

Sanders may be a first-time candidate, but he’s no stranger to politics. Her father, Republican Mike Huckabee, was Governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007. And by defeating Democrat Chris Jones, Sanders also becomes the first daughter in US history to serve as governor of the same state her father once ruled.

Sanders previously worked in the George W. Bush administration for two years and later managed her father’s 2008 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and then served as campaign manager for his 2016 bid.

She rose to national prominence for her role as White House press secretary for former President Donald Trump, serving as a staunch defender of the then President and his policies for more than two years. On many occasions, she clashed with national reporters and eventually scaled back the televised briefings. She defended the move, saying journalists could hear directly from Trump.

Sanders received an early endorsement from Trump after joining the race for Arkansas governor, and prominent rivals later dropped out of the race, paving her way to the GOP nomination.

Sander’s path to victory in the race to succeed acting GOP governor Asa Hutchison has been relatively smooth — not surprising in a state that has taken a sharp right turn in recent years. But the campaign wasn’t without its personal challenges. In September, Sanders announced that she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and “underwent successful surgery to remove my thyroid and surrounding lymph nodes.”

In her run for governor, Sanders defended her decision to only give a handful of interviews with local media, saying she spoke directly to constituents.

“Freedom of the press is incredibly important, but with freedom of the press comes great responsibility and when she doesn’t live up to her end of the bargain, she’s forcing some of us to think outside the box, which I’ve been doing every day for the last two years ‘ Sanders said at an Oct. 21 debate hosted by the PBS station in Arkansas.

In the debate, Sanders highlighted key issues in her campaign, including her Arkansas LEARNS education plan to increase literacy rates and her support for phasing out the state income tax, though she didn’t provide a timeline for doing so.

CNN’s Andrew Menezes provided coverage for this post.

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