Sanders gets the limelight with GOP's State of the Union response

The Arkansas governor has been floated as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2024.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Washington, D.C., in July of last year. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the newly elected governor of Arkansas and former President Donald Trump’s onetime press secretary, will be thrust into the national spotlight Tuesday night when she gives the Republican response to President Biden’s State of the Union address.

Delivering the response is often seen as a thankless and risky task, as it’s all but impossible to match the energy, scale and theatrics of the president’s speech to Congress. But the selection came with the backing of Congress’s top Republican leaders — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — and will give Sanders a chance to solidify her national profile.

In a statement last week announcing her rebuttal, Sanders said she was “grateful for this opportunity to address the nation and contrast the GOP’s optimistic vision for the future against the failures of President Biden and the Democrats.

“We are ready to begin a new chapter in the story of America — to be written by a new generation of leaders ready to defend our freedom against the radical left and expand access to quality education, jobs, and opportunity for all,” she added.

Sanders served as the second of Trump’s four press secretaries during his term, holding the podium for nearly two years beginning in July 2017. She announced her campaign for governor in January 2021 and cruised to victory, winning with 83% in the primary against radio host Doc Washburn and defeating Democrat Chris Jones by nearly 30 points in November’s general election.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders and then-President Donald Trump at a rally.
Sanders with then-President Donald Trump at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in January 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Sanders is the first female governor in Arkansas history. At age 40, she is also the youngest governor in the country.

While Sanders ran for governor leaning heavily on her work at the White House, she hasn’t yet issued a full-throated endorsement of her former boss. When asked in January about backing Trump’s latest bid for president on Fox News, she said, “I love the president,” but added that “right now my focus isn’t 2024, it’s focusing here in Arkansas.”

While Trump is leading in many polls for the Republican nomination, his potential challengers include Sanders’s predecessor in Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, who endorsed her run for governor.

Since taking office in January, Sanders has leaned into culture war issues, banning the use of the word “Latinx” on state documents and blocking the teaching of critical race theory, an academic study of racism’s systemic impact that is generally not taught below the university level but has become a popular target for conservatives. In her inaugural address, Sanders said she planned to focus on cutting taxes, promoting tourism and “preventing the political indoctrination of Arkansas’s schoolchildren.”

“Our teachers absolutely need to teach our history, but they shouldn’t teach our kids and our students ideas to hate this country and to give a false premise about who we are and what we’re about,” she said in the Fox News interview.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with his daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with Sanders, his daughter, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando on Feb. 27, 2021. (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty images)

Sanders’s father, Mike Huckabee, served as governor of Arkansas for a decade and finished second to John McCain in the 2008 Republican presidential primary. Sanders worked on her father’s campaigns over the years in addition to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential bid and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Additionally, she worked for both Republicans representing Arkansas in the U.S. Senate, serving as campaign manager for John Boozman in 2010 and an adviser for Tom Cotton in 2014.