With the 2024 presidential election on the horizon, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is contemplating a run for the White House, has a message for Republicans in Orange County: “Californians will have a voice.”
Hutchinson, 72, is swinging through Orange County this week as he develops his message about the country’s future and mulls a presidential bid. A decision on that, he said in an interview Tuesday, March 21, will come in April.
But in the meantime, Hutchinson is visiting a blue California, speaking to a Republican Party of Orange County gathering and a Laguna Niguel Republican Women group this week before he headlines an event at the Nixon Library on Wednesday. And while here, he is imploring the national Republican Party to pay attention to California ahead of 2024.
“California is important. We can’t simply be a party that appeals to middle America,” Hutchinson said, referring to what is typically seen as more conservative-leaning states not on either coast. “We have to be a party that can win on the West Coast.”
While he’s optimistic about the future of the Republican Party, Hutchinson said a winning formula for the GOP is having a “consistent conservative nominee” who can attract suburban and independent voters. The party shouldn’t be hinged, he said, on a candidate who is “always looking in the rearview mirror.” While not a specific reference to former President Donald Trump, who is in the midst of his third bid for the White House, Hutchinson has said the Jan. 6 insurrection “disqualifies” Trump from being at the top of the ticket again.
An attorney with a long political history in Arkansas, Hutchinson defined conservativism as “believing in a limited role of government, individual responsibility, valuing life and the life of the unborn and a strong America that can lead in terms of freedom.”
His priorities range from reining in federal spending to increasing border security to implementing a “more consistent and fulsome energy policy.”
On that latter note, Hutchinson believes there is a balance to be had between producing energy — more of which he says should be happening in the U.S. — and being good stewards of the environment.
“You’ve got to see fossil fuel energy sources as part of the mix, but let’s use technology to make it more friendly to the environment,” he said. “I think you can use sound practices to continue to produce, but in a way that recognizes the importance of the environment and protecting it.”
On border issues, too, Hutchinson, a former Drug Enforcement Administration chief, is hopeful. His solution? Speed up decisions on asylum cases, utilize technology for border patrol and designate cartels as a “foreign terrorist organization” to free up additional resources to combat the influx of fentanyl into the country.
Hutchinson, a former congressman and Department of Homeland Security undersecretary during the George W. Bush administration, has made recent trips to Iowa and South Carolina.
His visit to Southern California comes about two weeks after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a potential 2024 contender, made appearances at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley and at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Orange County.
DeSantis’ popularity among registered California Republican voters appears to be growing: A recent Berkeley IGS survey found the former congressman, 44, leading a field of potential GOP candidates with Trump in second place. (Hutchinson was not included in the list.)
But while DeSantis castigated California policies on his visit, from education to COVID-19 to public safety, Hutchinson said he wants to take a different approach to his potential rival — one that is more about comparing and contrasting rather than critiquing the state.
“I’m telling people what I’ve done and how I’ve led in Arkansas and my vision for the country,” Hutchinson said. “And my vision for the country, as I’ve articulated, I think makes sense in California, too.”
Despite the deep blue political makeup of California, Southern California is still seen as an asset for Republican candidates — because of its cash and the timing of the March 5 presidential primary, an opportunity for a competitor to nab an extraordinary amount of delegates for the nominating process.
Republicans in Orange County, Hutchinson said, seem to have “a strong sense of optimism for the future,” and he sees the GOP base in the Golden State as critical to the party’s overall success.
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