The former governor of Arkansas, a prominent Trump critic within the Republican Party, has been testing the waters in Iowa.
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Voters “are talking about things that matter to them, which is the economy, which is the fentanyl crisis that we have, and the relationship and leadership of America on the world stage,” former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said.
Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas, joined the race for the Republican nomination for president on Sunday, banking that in a crowded field, enough G.O.P. voters will be searching for an outspoken critic of Donald J. Trump to lift his dark-horse candidacy.
“What struck me as I was in Orange County, California, and as I was in Iowa for three days this week, was that the Trump factor really didn’t come up,” he said in an interview on Sunday, after he announced his candidacy on ABC’s “This Week.” The voters, he said, “are talking about things that matter to them, which is the economy, which is the fentanyl crisis that we have, and the relationship and leadership of America on the world stage.”
“They’re asking tough questions,” he added, “but it’s not about the political dynamics of Trump.”
Mr. Hutchinson has made several trips to Iowa, where he has tested out what he has called a message of “consistent conservatism” to Republican voters who have flocked to Mr. Trump in the past two elections. Recent polling has shown Mr. Trump’s lead among primary voters surging as his legal peril has grown. The former president is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday in Manhattan on charges that he falsified business records and violated New York campaign finance law to cover up hush-money payments to a pornographic film actress in the final days of the 2016 election.
With several other cases pending, Mr. Hutchinson appears to be betting that external forces will trip up Mr. Trump’s third run for the White House. Other anti-Trump Republicans, such as the former Maryland governor Larry Hogan, have declined to run. And the Republicans who have jumped in or are preparing to — Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, the entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor — have carefully avoided direct criticism of the front-runner.
Mr. Hogan said he decided against running because he thought the voices in the party who oppose a second Trump presidency needed to rally around a single alternative. Mr. Hutchinson disagreed, saying multiple voices needed to emerge to give Republican voters a choice.
Who’s Running for President in 2024?
Card 1 of 7
The race begins. Four years after a historically large number of candidates ran for president, the field for the 2024 campaign is starting out small and is likely to be headlined by the same two men who ran last time: President Biden and Donald Trump. Here’s who has entered the race so far, and who else might run:
Donald Trump. The former president is running to retake the office he lost in 2020. Though somewhat diminished in influence within the Republican Party — and facing several legal investigations — he retains a large and committed base of supporters, and he could be aided in the primary by multiple challengers splitting a limited anti-Trump vote.
Nikki Haley. The former governor of South Carolina and U.N. ambassador under Trump has presented herself as a member of “a new generation of leadership” and emphasized her life experience as a daughter of Indian immigrants. She was long seen as a rising G.O.P. star but her allure in the party has declined amid her on-again, off-again embrace of Trump.
Vivek Ramaswamy. The multimillionaire entrepreneur and author describes himself as “anti-woke” and is known in right-wing circles for opposing corporate efforts to advance political, social and environmental causes. He has never held elected office and does not have the name recognition of most other G.O.P. contenders.
President Biden. While Biden has not formally declared his candidacy for a second term, and there has been much hand-wringing among Democrats over whether he should seek re-election given his age, he is widely expected to run. If he does, Biden’s strategy is to frame the race as a contest between a seasoned leader and a conspiracy-minded opposition.
Marianne Williamson. The self-help author and former spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey is the first Democrat to formally enter the race. Kicking off her second presidential campaign, Williamson called Biden a “weak choice” and said the party shouldn’t fear a primary. Few in Democratic politics are taking her entry into the race seriously.
Others who are likely to run. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire are seen as weighing Republican bids for the White House.
“This is the most unpredictable election cycle in my lifetime for sure,” he said Sunday. “It’s unpredictable as to what develops with Donald Trump. It’s unpredictable as to what candidates get in there and whether they can be competitive.”
Mr. Hutchinson is not a moderate Republican. He signed a ban on abortion that makes no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, though he expressed some reservations. He has pressed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. And he led a task force convened by the National Rifle Association after the massacre of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 to come up with a response to blunt the push for gun control.
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On Sunday morning, he embraced Arkansas’s abortion ban.
“If that’s what they want to attack me on, then I’m proud to stand squarely on my pro-life position,” he said.
But his government experience is broader than other candidates in the race. In addition to his two terms as governor, he served in the House, led the Drug Enforcement Administration and headed the Border and Transportation Security Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security when it was created after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Those experiences are central to the campaign because they address some of the greatest concerns of Americans, which is we need to secure the border,” he said.
But his outspoken criticism of the former president has set him apart in a Trump-dominated party where dissent has not been tolerated. He has said Mr. Trump and those who supported his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election should not have positions of power. He stood against the Republican National Committee’s censure of now former-Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for serving as the only two Republicans on the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. And he called Mr. Trump’s election denial a “recipe for disaster” for the party.
He was one of the very few Republicans to issue a statement after Mr. Trump’s indictment last week that did not dismiss the charges as political.
“It is a dark day for America when a former President is indicted on criminal charges,” he wrote on Thursday. “While the grand jury found credible facts to support the charges, it is important that the presumption of innocence follows Mr. Trump. We need to wait on the facts and for our American system of justice to work like it does for thousands of Americans every day.”