Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson formally kicked off his presidential campaign on Wednesday with a speech in Bentonville, Arkansas, seeking to distinguish himself from the GOP field with his long career in government and as a “consistent conservative.”
“Today, I am announcing that I am a candidate for president of the United States,” Hutchinson said. “In this campaign for president, I stand alone in terms of my experience, record and leadership.”
In his speech, Hutchinson touched upon plans to address the economy, crime, and border security – issues that fit with his public service record. But the former governor, who’s working to build national name recognition, also highlighted his personal story of growing up on a farm in a small town.
Bentonville is where Hutchinson announced his first run for public office and part of the district he used to represent when he was in the US House of Representatives. He was joined by family, friends and supporters, who traveled across the state to support the former governor on Wednesday.
Hutchinson announced his bid for the GOP presidential nomination during an interview with ABC News earlier this month. But he’s been polling in the single digits, while former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has yet to jump into the race, are well ahead of him and the rest of the competition.
Core to Hutchinson’s argument for election is he has the credentials and temperament to win a general election and that if Trump is the Republican nominee, the former president can’t appeal to enough voters to beat President Joe Biden.
Without mentioning Trump by name in Wednesday’s speech, Hutchinson attacked the former president’s “America First” agenda.
“There are some who want the US to disengage from the world and to isolate ourselves,” he said, adding, “isolationism only leads to weakness and weakness leads to war.”
Later, he hit squarely on Trump’s recent calls to defund the FBI.
Surrounded by local businesses and restaurants in Bentonville’s town square, Hutchinson, whose time as governor ended in January, touted his efforts to keep Arkansas strong during the Covid-19 pandemic. He said his “mettle was tested” when he faced pressure from Washington to enact Covid restrictions.
“I demonstrated how we can lead through a pandemic without closing down every business and shutting down schools,” he said.
With a thinly veiled swipe at DeSantis, Hutchinson said, “The result was that our businesses survived, and we had more days of in-classroom instruction during the pandemic than almost any other state. Yes, that’s right. We beat Florida and Texas.”
He promised, if elected president, that he would set up a commission to ensure the future of Social Security and Medicare, expand computer science education in every K-12 school to compete with China, and cut the federal civilian workforce by 10%.
Hutchinson has spent much of his career in public service. The former Arkansas governor served as federal prosecutor, in the House of Representatives, and as the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and as a Department of Homeland Security undersecretary during the Bush administration.
Wilma Donley, who drove to the event from Little Rock, told CNN she that she’s supporting Hutchinson because “we need some civility back in our country.”
“We are in bad shape right now. And I feel he’s the one that can put the civility back into campaigning,” said Donley, who’s voted for both parties in the past and told CNN she supported Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The former governor acknowledged on CNN earlier this month that “perhaps I’m not as exciting as some candidates that are out there. I don’t throw bombs and torches all the time.”
“But I am consistent, I have a track record that’s important. And I have a vision for America, for border security, for the fentanyl crisis – and so things that we can bring people together, I think that’s a great characteristic and history that I bring,” he added.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Kim Berryman contributed to this report.