It did not take long for the state’s Republican elected officials to line up behind Sarah Huckabee Sanders in her campaign for governor once her only primary opponent, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, dropped out of the race.

The parade of endorsements began November 10, the day after Rutledge’s announcement that she was running for lieutenant governor instead. That’s when Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton jointly announced their support. On November 12, the state’s four U.S. House members endorsed Sanders, as did Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Lt. Governor Tim Griffin.

Then on Friday, November 18, Sanders’ campaign released an announcement that, in the state Legislature, all 26 Senate Republicans along with 75 House Republicans had endorsed Sanders. The release listed the names.

That was temporarily interesting only because there are 77 House Republicans, so I wondered about the other two.

One is Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, who is campaigning to become secretary of state. He does not seem to be the type to decline to endorse his party’s only candidate. When contacted Saturday morning for this column, he said he was in fact

endorsing Sanders and, after our text conversation ended, immediately called her campaign to correct the omission and then left me a voicemail to say what he had done.

That left only one Republican holdout: Rep. Gayla McKenzie, R-Gravette. Like Lowery, she responded quickly to my question, but her omission wasn’t an oversight or accident. Instead, she said she supports Sanders but is philosophically opposed to endorsing a primary candidate when the filing period hasn’t even begun. (For the record, it’s noon February 22 until noon March 1, or three months from now.) In fact, she’s not crazy about endorsements, period.

McKenzie is the sister of the state Legislature’s only independent, Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, who announced this week that he is not running for re-election.

An independent mindset, if not always an independent partisan affiliation, runs in the family.

What’s happened is that the state’s Republican politicians have done what politicians usually do and should do, which is read the mood of the electorate and their fellow politicians. No Republican officeholder wants to be seen as failing to support the eventual nominee, and if they are mistakenly seen that way, they’ll

correct it or clarify.

Once Rutledge dropped out of the race, there was no reason for them to withhold their support for Sanders. She is the only Republican in the race, she’s raised more than $11 million as of September 30, and she’s almost certainly going to be Arkansas’

next governor. And its first female one.

How certain? No Democrat running for a statewide office has topped 37% since 2014.

That year, former Rep. Mike Ross only managed 41.5% running for governor against now-Gov. Asa Hutchinson, while then-Sen. Mark Pryor didn’t even break 40% running for re-election against now-Sen. Tom Cotton. In other words, it’s very likely that Sanders will be moving back into the Governor’s Mansion where she spent much of her childhood.

Democrats do have four candidates, their strongest being Chris Jones, a nuclear engineer, physicist, urban planner and minister who led the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. That’s a North Little Rock-based nonprofit that provides facilities, tools and training to entrepreneurs, students and workers. His wife is a doctor and an Air Force veteran, and he has three daughters. If you haven’t watched his introductory ad, it’s one of the better political communications you’re going to see. He raised $1 million during his campaign’s first four months.

Basically, he’s the Democrats’ version of this year’s Arkansas Razorbacks: Good, and much better than recent versions. But Sanders is Alabama. Actually, Arkansas played Alabama close and had a shot at winning at the end, so this year she’s Georgia.

And in the May Republican Party primary, she’s Georgia taking the field without even having an opponent. It’s no wonder all the state’s Republican officials are supporting her, even if one hasn’t yet officially endorsed her.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist who focuses on Arkansas politics, and whose work appears in 16 Arkansas publications. He is a regular contributor to Talk Business and a frequent panelist on Arkansas PBS’s public affairs show, “Arkansas Week." He publishes a blog, . Email him at . Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner .


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