Narrator: Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas, just announced that he’s running for president in 2024. He’s a Republican with a long history in politics. But he has less name recognition than some of the other potential Republican hopefuls. To learn more about him, I spoke with Monica Potts, a senior politics reporter at FiveThirtyEight, who is based in Arkansas.
Anna Rothschild: So tell me about Asa Hutchinson. Where is he from and what’s his backstory?
Monica Potts: So Asa Hutchinson is from Arkansas. He got started in 1982 when Ronald Reagan appointed him to be the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. At the time, it was reported that he was the youngest district attorney in the United States. And he really made his name in that role.
Narrator: Hutchinson first reached national prominence while prosecuting a white supremacist group in the Ozarks. He then became a U.S. congressman for Arkansas and was a house manager for the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton.
Asa Hutchinson: I think that you can see that there was an intent to make sure that Monica Lewinsky was taken care of. Again she was on board, part of the team, before she actually would have to give testimony or the president would have to give testimony.
Narrator: During George W. Bush’s administration, he served as the director of the Drug Enforcement Agency and then became the under secretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security. Most recently, he served two terms as governor of Arkansas.
Potts: He’s a very old school chamber of commerce, pro business politician. He cut taxes in the state. He touts a lot of efforts to bring more jobs here. That’s one of his big selling points. But he’s also very conservative culturally. He signed a Roe v. Wade trigger law — it was one of the strictest in the country — that immediately banned abortion when Roe v Wade was overturned last year.
Narrator: While he’s broadly conservative, Hutchinson has veered from the Republican party line at times. He signed a law banning transgender youth in certain sports, but also vetoed one that would ban gender-affirming care for minors — though the state legislature overrode his veto and passed the law anyway.
Rothschild: Who does he see as his base?
Potts: He thinks that he could appeal to more moderate voters in states like California and on the coasts. And he said, according to the LA Times, on a visit to Orange County Republicans, that the Republican Party can’t just be a middle America party, that it has to appeal to those more moderate suburban voters.
Potts: He came up in Arkansas politics at a time when Republicans were in a very small minority and Democrats really ran the state. So he feels like he knows how to compromise when it’s necessary. He knows how to find middle ground when it’s necessary. At least that’s how he’s gonna sell himself.
Narrator: Hutchinson voted for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020. But more recently he’s been critical of the former president.
Asa Hutchinson: I do not believe that Donald Trump should be the next president of the United States. I think he’s had his opportunity there. I think January 6th really disqualifies him for the future.
Narrator: On the day of Trump’s indictment in the Stormy Daniels case, Hutchinson reiterated that Trump should not be president, but also said, “It is essential that the decision on America’s next President be made at the ballot box and not in the court system.”
There’s been very little polling on Hutchinson’s chances against some of the big frontrunners for the Republican primary. But so far, he’s trailing considerably.
Potts: I think he has almost no name recognition among Republican primary voters. That’s going to be a challenge for him. He’s been a leader among people who know about politics. But he’s not really a household name. In addition to that, he is going to face challenges because he’s challenged Trump. He said that he shouldn’t be the next president, and the Republican primary voter on average is still a big fan of Trump. So that’s going to be a kind of a fine needle to thread as well, I think.