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BRENDA BLAGG: An impressive long shot

Democrat Jones enters 2022 gubernatorial contest by Brenda Blagg | June 23, 2021 at 3:12 a.m.

The cast of characters for Arkansas' 2022 gubernatorial election just got a little more interesting.

Enter Chris Jones, a physicist and a minister who last week announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the office now held by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Jones introduced his campaign with a video that has quickly established the 44-year-old as an impressive candidate -- despite long-shot odds for his success.

The video reportedly has gone viral, with millions of views, as national broadcasts and news reports within the state and beyond have told the story of this enterprising Black man who wants to be the state's next governor.

Jones, the son of two ministers, can trace his Arkansas ancestry back seven generations to a slave record from a south Arkansas plantation.

His ambition to be governor began in boyhood. As he told one interviewer, the idea "was a spark then and life has just kind of fanned that flame."

Life, for the Pine Bluff native, has included the pursuit of education, first studying physics and math on a full NASA scholarship at Morehouse College in Atlanta, then earning advanced degrees in nuclear engineering and urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He also became an ordained minister and about four years ago came home to Arkansas where he was most recently executive director of the nonprofit Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub.

Married to Dr. Jerrilyn Jones, an emergency room doctor and the preparedness director for the Arkansas Department of Health, Jones describes himself as a proud "girl dad" to their three daughters.

What he's not is a practiced politician or a household name to Arkansas voters.

His would be an uphill climb in any year. But, the 2022 race is particularly challenging because the open seat is drawing a lot of interest.

Hutchinson is term-limited and cannot seek another term as governor.

The opportunity has already generated a high-profile Republican race between Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a former press secretary to then-President Donald Trump and daughter to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Jones has entered a Democratic field that includes at least three others, all relative unknowns.

If he gets the party's nod, he'd face a Libertarian, also relatively unknown, and whoever survives that high-octane Rutledge-Sanders race for the Republican nomination.

There's a possibility, too, that state Sen. Jim Hendren, who left the Republican Party to launch Common Ground Arkansas, may yet make an independent bid for governor.

Is there room for a candidate like Jones in this race?

There should be. He is impressive. Check out his campaign video to see for yourself.

But he faces the same problems any other political newcomer does. He has to earn name recognition and attract enough donors to finance a campaign that will let him share his ideas with voters.

That viral video may help Jones build a base and a campaign chest, but competing first in the Democratic primary and then the general election would still be a tough slog.

Rutledge and Sanders have each already raised millions for their respective campaigns. Either woman can raise more money in their competition to be this state's first female governor.

Plus, they are Republicans in a state that has in recent years elected Republicans to every constitutional office and to huge majorities in the state Legislature.

Nevertheless, Democrat Jones' entry into the governor's race definitely made the gubernatorial field more interesting.

Print Headline: An impressive long shot

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