LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The three candidates for Arkansas governor lined up under the broadcast stage lights Friday morning to make their case.
Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington, Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Democrat Chris Jones outlined their positions in the one-hour debate at Arkansas PBS in Conway, often emphasizing jobs and education, while at times each candidate gently pointed out the flaws they perceived in their opponents’ platforms.
The greatest back-and-forth was between Jones and Huckabee Sanders, the front runners in the latest polls. Typical of this was an early aside from Jones about this being the first time he had faced Huckabee Sanders in a debate.
Huckabee Sanders quickly and repeatedly took the opportunity to position herself as the candidate opposed to the policies of the Biden administration, citing the “failures coming out of Washington.” She then listed increasing crime rates, drugs coming across the border and inflation as signifiers of these failures.
Jones also came out early and often with what he called “P, B and J,” which stood for “preschool, broadband and jobs,” as a policy emphasis. He frequently pointed out his travels throughout the 75 counties of Arkansas.
Huckabee Sanders pointed out several times that she also had traveled to all 75 counties in the state.
Jobs were also at the center of Harrington’s pitch, emphasizing greater access to professional licensure for aspiring entrepreneurs. At one point he made a case for greater autonomy for Arkansas nurse practitioners to increase health care access.
Education was at the top of all the candidates’ lists, and they agreed this topic was where they were most closely aligned.
Still, differences in education policy were apparent between Jones, with his P, B and J program and its requirement for increasing education funding, and Huckabee Sanders making a case for parents having a choice in schools for their children. Harrington emphasized job-focused education for professional trades.
The most significant difference was in economic policy. Huckabee Sanders spoke about her desire to end the state income tax. Jones opposed such a plan, citing a meeting with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, which told him such a cut would be disastrous. Harrington held a middle ground here, finding fault with sales tax cuts, emphasizing cutting the tax on groceries in Arkansas.
Friday’s debate came one day after a new poll from Talk Business and Politics and Hendrix College showed Huckabee Sanders holding a double-digit lead over Jones, her closest competitor.
The poll showed 51% of respondents backed the former White House press secretary, compared to 41% supporting Jones. Harrington came in at 3%, while 5% of voters in the poll were undecided. The poll had a 3.9% margin of error.
The Arkansas general election is Nov. 8, with early voting beginning Oct. 24.