- Associated Press - Monday, October 17, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Monday launched her 2018 re-election bid, joining a growing list of Arkansas elected officials who have begun raising money and organizing their campaigns more than two years ahead of that election.

Rutledge, the first Republican and woman elected attorney general, told The Associated Press last week she’s already begun raising money for her re-election bid and filed her first fundraising report with state election officials. Rutledge reported she raised $71,850 during the quarter that ended Sept. 30.

“I had a number of people asking me if I was going to seek re-election and so decided to go ahead and open up the fundraising and begin that process,” Rutledge said. “It is a long slog and we’re seeing more and more how expensive, unfortunately, these campaigns can be.”

Rutledge is the third Republican statewide elected official to launch a bid for 2018. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin in July announced he was seeking re-election and Land Commissioner John Thurston has said he’s running for secretary of state. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is widely expected to seek re-election but has not announced his plans yet.

Donors to Rutledge’s campaign so far include Wal-Mart’s political action committee and Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson.

Republicans control all statewide and federal offices in Arkansas, and hold a majority in both chambers of the Legislature.

Unlike past attorneys general, Rutledge hasn’t had a legislative agenda she’s presented to lawmakers. Instead, she’s focused on filing or joining federal lawsuits in several areas, including challenges to the Obama administration’s carbon emissions reduction plan and its directive that public schools must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity. She’s also challenging a state judge’s decision to uphold a Fayetteville ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, arguing that it conflicts with a state law that was aimed at effectively prohibiting local protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“We’ll continue to be in lawsuits as long as we have agencies going beyond the scope of the authority given to them,” she said. “I think that regardless of who wins (the White House) in November, these agencies and these rules that have been promulgated and actions will still be there.”

Rutledge was elected in 2014, defeating then-Democratic state Rep. Nate Steel. She won the GOP’s nomination after a bitter primary and runoff campaign where she was targeted by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network in a series of ads and mailers. No Democrats or Republicans have announced a bid or said they’re considering running for attorney general in 2018.

She’s also raised her profile nationally in recent months by being an outspoken supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and spoke at the Republican National Convention in July. Earlier this month she condemned Trump for lewd comments about groping and kissing women without their consent, but has maintained her support for the GOP nominee.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ademillo

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