Allies of outgoing White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders commissioned a poll in her native state of Arkansas to test her support against likely primary opponents for a potential gubernatorial race, sources close to Sanders tell CBS News. The results of the poll, conducted several weeks ago, showed Sanders "crushing" any potential Republican rivals, including current Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin who has been eyeing a run, according to sources.
Those close to Sanders confirm she is "seriously considering" a run for political office, and specifically the governor's seat after Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's term ends. However, Sanders is adamant she will not make a final decision on whether to run for the seat that her father Mike Huckabee once for at least two years. The next gubernatorial race will be in 2022.
The mother of three young children, Sanders has emphatically and repeatedly said she is leaving from White House role and its often-grueling schedule to spend time with her family in her home state.
"For me it is about my family and always has been," Sanders told a handful of reporters in her office recently. "But I wanted the opportunity to spend more time with them, particularly over the summer. "
If Sanders does decide to run for governor in 2022, she would have the support of President Trump and a network of formidable supporters waiting in the wings.
"She was an extraordinary talent when I worked with her when was 25 years old, and learned an extraordinary amount since then," said Republican strategist Ed Rollins, who worked with Sanders on her father's 2008 presidential campaign.
"Huckabee is still a magic name in Arkansas," said Rollins, who was President Ronald Reagan's campaign manager in the 1984 election and is currently co-chairman of the pro-Trump Great America PAC. "If she wants to run she will be tough to beat."
"She has 100% name ID, the strong backing of the president and deep ties back home," Raj Shah, Sanders' former principal deputy press secretary, told CBS News. "She would be an instant frontrunner the moment she jumped into the race."
"And having worked alongside her, I've seen her unique ability to connect and carry a message. Sarah would be very hard to beat," he added.
Leading up to Sanders' decision to leave the White House, the president had been asking Sanders whether she was going to run for governor, and had even playfully started calling her "governor."
While the president had encouraged Sanders to consider running, her departure will take away one of his most trusted advisers in the White House. Sanders had been elevated to be part of Mr. Trump's closest inner circle, even higher than most Cabinet members, according to several sources in the White House. She is arguably the most powerful press secretary in modern White House history, given her access to the president. She sat in some of the most high-profile meetings during her tenure, according to a White House official, who calculated that Sanders had spent on average "hours a week" in meetings with the president in the Oval Office.
Griffin, the current lieutenant governor and a likely 2022 gubernatorial candidate, has been angrily calling contacts in Washington and Arkansas, fuming over Sander's possible entrance into the race, according to sources who have received his calls.
"There are probably a number of Democrats who would love to step up and challenge Sarah Huckabee Sanders if she was going to be the nominee," state Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray told The Associated Press.
Sanders last day at the White House will be at the end of June. The very next day, she and her young family will return home to Arkansas.