LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (NewsNation Now) — Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is now the only Republican left in the Arkansas gubernatorial race and becomes the presumptive Republican nominee.
What started out as a field of three is now one, as Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge dropped her bid for governor Tuesday.
The two were running to succeed Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who can’t run for reelection due to term limits. Rutledge’s exit leaves Sanders as the only announced Republican candidate for governor. Several Democrats are running for the post.
Rutledge, who announced last year she was running for governor, said she would instead seek the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.
“At this crossroads in our country’s history, now is a time for Christian conservative leaders to unite and fight together against those who wish to destroy the America we know and love,” Rutledge said in a statement released by her campaign.
Rutledge endorsed Sanders’ bid, saying, “She will stand strong against the onslaught of the liberal left’s attack on our home state.”
Sanders has raised $2.1 million over the past three months in her bid to be Arkansas’ next governor, her campaign said last month.
Sanders’ campaign said the contributions brought her total fundraising haul since she announced she was running in January to more than $11 million, which is the most that has been raised for a governor’s race in the state.
Sanders has been campaigning primarily on national issues such as border control and the country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. All but $3.7 million of the money her campaign has raised has come from out of state.
Rutledge had criticized Sanders, who has run primarily on national issues, as not having much accomplishment behind her rhetoric.
“While my opponent talks about the liberal left in Washington, D.C., she has done nothing to effectively combat them in the last several years,” Rutledge told The Associated Press in September.
Despite Rutledge’s past criticism, Sanders thanked the attorney general after her exit from the governor’s race.
“I want to thank Leslie Rutledge for her leadership,” Sanders said in a statement released by her campaign. “I look forward to uniting Arkansans behind my vision to grow our economy and create high-paying jobs, increase access to quality education, and deliver bold, conservative reforms that take our state to the top.”
Rutledge joins an already crowded race for lieutenant governor. Former state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb, state Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, businessman Chris Bequette, Washington County Judge Joseph Wood and state Sen. Jason Rapert are currently seeking the GOP nomination. Kelly Krout, a graduate student and advocate for foster families, is the only Democrat running.
Sanders’s father, Mike Hucakbee, was governor in Arkansas for 10 years.