PINE TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania — When Sarah Sanders took center stage Wednesday night at an event for Dave McCormick, a Republican primary candidate for the U.S. Senate, her entrance into the packed event space didn’t go as planned.
“Oh, great. My first impression with all of you is me almost taking the candidate out,” she deadpanned to the crowd after the wire to the microphone she was holding got tangled with McCormick‘s footing at the suburban Allegheny County event space.
It was a moment that reminded people, whether you liked her or not as President Donald Trump’s White House spokeswoman, that one of her greatest gifts is her ability to use wit in an awkward situation, even if the joke is on her.
Sanders was in western Pennsylvania to help McCormick launch his Women for McCormick coalition in a wealthy northern Pittsburgh suburb. Former White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative Pastor Paula White gave the invocation; McCormick’s wife, former Trump adviser Dina Powell, and former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks were also there.
Sanders started her career in politics as a child in 1992, stuffing envelopes for her father’s campaign for Arkansas governor. She took that to the next level in 2008, when her father ran a shoestring presidential campaign highlighted by an iconic and hysterical ad with Chuck Norris and a big upset win in the Iowa caucuses.
She said the idea of running for the same office her father held for two terms in her home state of Arkansas — he was elected to a full four-year term as governor in 1998 and reelected in November 2002 — is both an honor and a race she does not take for granted.
“It’s pretty surreal, but it will be such a huge honor and a privilege if I win,” Sanders said.
“I love Arkansas. This is where I’ve spent 35 out of 39 years of my life. I love every little small town and diner and all the culture of each little community, and I want my kids to inherit the same Arkansas that I fell in love with as a kid. Going around the state with my dad and seeing all 75 counties, I want them to inherit that goodness that I think Arkansas represents.”
Sanders says there is a danger of losing that unique culture if there isn’t good leadership in her state. “If we don’t have good leadership, that’s not what our kids are going to get. I want them to love and appreciate Arkansas so much that they want to be there. They want to grow up and raise their own families there, the way that we’ve chosen to do with ours. So for us, it was kind of a no-brainer to put everything on the line and fight for a state and the people we love.”
Sanders has emerged from the White House as a prolific fundraiser, raising nearly $480,000 this month, with over $7.5 million in the bank overall.
In total, since launching her campaign last year, she has raised more than $13.6 million. She faces former radio talk show host Doc Washburn in the May Republican primary.
The Democratic primary includes Chris Jones, Anthony Bland, Jay Martin, James Russell, and Supha Xayprasith-Mays.
While Washington pundits and reporters may view Sanders one way, attendees at this event see her much differently, which is why they often miss why she is a hit here but not there.
Many of those attending the event, particularly the young women and suburban mothers, said two things stood out about Sanders’s speech: her wit and her strength.
Sanders leaned into the strength message. “I think that’s one of the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans represent strength, and Democrats, frankly, represent weakness. Dave [McCormick] talked about this in his remarks: People are sick and tired of the weakness and the wokeness that is operating the entire Democrat apparatus,” she said.
While issues such as inflation, education, opioids, crime, and border security are on the top of folks’ minds whether they are Republican, Democratic, or independent voters, issues such as climate change, transgender politics, and COVID mandates are at the bottom of the list.
McCormick, who has a blended family of six daughters with Powell, said strong women have been part of shaping his life, beginning with his mother: “My mom is a really strong woman. She went back at the age of 50 to graduate school and did a Ph.D., and she was always an equal partner to my dad in every way. So I grew up with really strong women,” he said.
Sanders said all voters are looking for people who will be tough enough to stand up and say, “Whoa, this stuff is crazy.” “I think we’re seeing over the course of the last two years, more than we probably ever have, at least certainly in my lifetime, people are awakened to just how out of touch the radical Left is, and if we’re going to beat it, we have to be strong.”
“If we’re going to defeat that, then we have to be much tougher, much louder, and much better-organized.”