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Chris Jones, nuclear engineer and political newcomer, enters the race for governor of Arkansas

The race to replace Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who cannot run for re-election due to term limits, wins another candidate – a nuclear engineer who says he is running as a Democrat to offer the voters another alternative to Trump politics.

Chris Jones, the former head of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a North Little Rock-based nonprofit, plans to announce his candidacy on Tuesday. New to politics – he was once the student body president of Morehouse College, a historically black university in Atlanta – Jones, 44, said he was put off by the political divisions of recent years.

Chris Jones, 44, announces his candidacy as a Democrat in the 2022 Arkansas gubernatorial race.Chris Jones for Governor of Arkansas

“Our campaign is to uplift people and build a just Arkansas so that there are opportunities for all of us,” he said, adding that “the reality of this moment in our nation’s history is that if we want our politics to be different, we must be different. “

Jones, a former assistant dean of graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked to double minority enrollment, said if elected he would focus on rebuilding the infrastructure of Arkansas, the investment in health care and education, and expansion of broadband access in rural areas.

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He joins a handful of declared candidates on the Democratic side, including Anthony Bland, a teacher and the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018. Meanwhile, two Republicans also said: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of the former governor Mike Huckabee who served as press secretary to former President Donald Trump and State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Early polls and name recognition gave Sanders an edge, and Trump quickly endorsed her in January by its political action committee. Sanders has already raised nearly $ 5 million as she leads a campaign promising to fight the “radical left” and federal government excesses.

Political observers say Jones, who is black, could ride a wave of recent years in which people of color and historically disenfranchised groups with limited political experience are elected to higher positions.

“Jones is a son of the country. It’s important because he’s not seen as an outsider,” said Najja Baptist, assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas. “But what he will have to do is take the opposite approach of a Sanders: galvanize small donors and build a multicultural coalition.”

Black candidates for governor or any statewide race are rare in Arkansas – one of them ran for governor over a century ago – and the state also never had a female governor, which would make the 2022 election result historic, said Heather Yates, an aide. professor of political science at the University of Central Arkansas.

At the very least, Baptist said, this election could be a stepping stone to inspire a diverse group of people to run for office in a state that remains a conservative GOP stronghold.

“The question is, what impact can a young black candidate have in this election, even if he doesn’t win?” he said.

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