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Hutchinson pushes optimistic White House bid, not a candidate that ‘creates chaos’

Joseph Bustos/jbustos@thestate.comp

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to bring an optimistic tone as he makes his bid for the White House.

Hutchinson, who jumped into the race for the GOP nomination for president last month, told the group of 30 Richland County Republicans Tuesday that he seeks to be a leader that can bring people together.

“Today, we have leaders that capitalize on our division, and they push the division and they further divide us and I don’t believe that is presidential leadership, so I want to bring an optimism,” Hutchinson said to the group at Doc’s Barbecue.

Hutchinson is in a field that includes former President Donald Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and conservative radio show talk show host Larry Elder.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to launch his bid Wednesday in a Twitter event with Elon Musk. Former Vice President Mike Pence also is considering a White House bid.

Hutchinson, 72, has a connection to the state that holds the First in the South presidential primary. He graduated from Bob Jones University in Greenville in 1972.

“All the candidates get excited about South Carolina, but I think I have a home here. I think we can be competitive here,” Hutchinson said. “We don’t know what this future holds, so expect me to be around. I look forward to campaigning here.”

Hutchinson is polling low, garnering 0% of support among South Carolina Republicans in a Winthrop University Poll released in April. In national polls he is polling in the low single digits.

Hutchinson had 3% of support among South Carolina Republican presidential primary voters in a poll conducted by National Public Affairs from May 15-17.

Trump and DeSantis, known for their national profiles as well as their combative styles, are the frontrunners in the race.

“I’ve been a fighter, but you can be an optimist at the same time, they’re not mutually exclusive,” Hutchinson said. “We want a president that brings out the best of America, that tries to bring people together, and you can be a combative fighter for our values and for our future at the same time. So people (have to) look a little bit deeper than just simply on the surface. What we don’t want is somebody that just creates chaos.”

Seeking to reform federal law enforcement

Hutchinson spoke about the recent report from John Durham, a special counsel appointed by Trump to investigate the FBI’s inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The report, while repeating previous flaws within the agency, concluded the FBI had confirmation bias and lacked analytical rigor, The New York Times reported.

Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor, placed blame on the Department of Justice’s political appointees.

“They have to be able to set the right tone of fairness, the right tone of oversight of the FBI, and they failed to do that. So it starts at the top,” Hutchinson said. “There also should be some institutional changes and the FBI has grown too large and too bureaucratic and they’ve lost focus. So we need to change and reform federal law enforcement. I’m the best one to do that.”

Hutchinson also pushed back on people who call for defunding of the FBI, an idea pushed by Trump.

“They’re just demagoguing the issue, and the fact is, (the FBI) has a very important mission in counterterrorism, in protecting our country and enforcing our law, but it is too broad, and it needs to be more narrow and (have) more accountability,” Hutchinson said.

Jackie McKenna, 22, who is originally from Spartanburg, doesn’t know if she’ll vote in the Democratic or Republican presidential primary next year. She is pursuing a master’s degree in international business at the University of South Carolina.

McKenna, who was born just before the Sept. 11 attacks, was told about how the country came together during a tumultuous time.

“I can’t imagine us being further from that. We’re so divided,” McKenna said. “What I’m looking for in a candidate is somebody who is looking to rise above that … I’m looking for a candidate who is going to bring the country together.”