How Sarah Huckabee Sanders Changed Through The Years

When you hear the name "Sarah Huckabee Sanders," one or more associations may come to mind. You might think of the Arkansas governor, which she currently serves as, or you might think back to President Donald Trump's former White House press secretary. If you know a bit about her family history, you may even link Huckabee Sanders to her father, Mike Huckabee, who also served as a Republican governor of Arkansas. 

Yet despite her family name and upbringing, Huckabee Sanders has also worked hard in her own right, even if she was involved in political controversies and criticisms along the way. Whatever your politics, those in all parties can recognize that she has worked hard in her career, achieving several goals and historic milestones at a young age. Here, we take you inside this rapid professional and political transformation, starting at a young age and up through her win as governor.

She first became involved in politics at age 9

Given her upbringing in a family actively involved in politics, it's not a surprise that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would someday work in that same arena. What is surprising, however, is how young she got started. In fact, her political involvement began when she was 9 years old. At this time, young Huckabee Sanders assisted with her father's first run for office for the U.S. Senate (which he lost). "He didn't really have much of a staff, so our family has always been very engaged and very supportive of my dad," she told The Hill in a 2010 phone interview. "I was stuffing envelopes, I was knocking on doors, I was putting up yard signs," she described.

Huckabee Sanders' earlier experiences would undoubtedly serve her and her father Mike Huckabee well when he ran for governor. He was first elected in 1998 and then won re-election in 2002.  She worked directly with her father's re-election campaign, and would also play active roles in his presidential runs. Interestingly, when The Hill asked her about her personal political ambitions in the same 2010 phone interview, she had said it was more of a "passion" and she wasn't sure whether she would get into politics herself.

She graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in 2004

After graduating from Little Rock Central High School, Sarah Huckabee Sanders went on to attend Ouachita Baptist University. It just so happens this is the same college that both her parents, Mike and Janet Huckabee, also attended. Her parents had known each other since middle school and married while they were still attending Ouachita in 1974. 

Given her parents' history at Ouachita, it's not a surprise that Huckabee Sanders would also go on to attend the private university. Located in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Ouachita is a small liberal arts school that has just 1,500 students. Huckabee Sanders would go on to study political science and graduate in 2004. During her time at Ouachita, she was elected the Student Senate president and earned other accolades from the college faculty.  It was evident early on that she had a passion for politics like her father did, and that she would be destined to work in the field. Her education, family background, and prior campaign experience would set her up for the next steps in her formal career launch.

She went on to work for several political operations after graduation

Aside from her work in her father's U.S. Senate campaign as a child, Sarah Huckabee Sanders' education and experience served her well as she sought to work with other political operations. While she was still in school at Ouachita, she helped her father with his gubernatorial re-election. However, after graduation, she expanded the breadth of her political connections outside of her immediate family. These included the Ohio field coordinator for George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, and subsequently at the Department of Education. 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders went on to work with her father, Mike Huckabee, again, this time in his run for president. First, she was his national political director in 2008, and then she worked as the campaign manager in 2016. After her father dropped out of the 2016 race, she worked as a senior advisor for Donald Trump's presidential campaign. In between that time, she served as campaign manager for John Boozman's run for Senate in 2010, as well as Senator Tom Cotton's senior advisor during his 2014 run. Notably, both men won their senate campaigns.

In 2010, she married Bryan Chatfield Sanders

2010 was arguably one of the busiest years of Sarah Huckabee Sanders' life. Not only was she working on Representative John Boozman's U.S. Senate campaign, but she was also planning a wedding that same year. In fact, she got married just one week after the Republican state primary in Arkansas, which Boozman ended up winning. Her soon-to-be husband was Bryan Chatfield Sanders, who she first met in Iowa during her work on her father Mike Huckabee's first presidential campaign. Notably, her husband was working for another candidate until he dropped out of the race.

Huckabee Sanders and Bryan Chatfield Sanders wed on May 25, 2010, in St. John's in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She kept her maiden name while also taking her husband's. After the ceremony, they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. They would later have three children together. Like Huckabee Sanders, her husband is also active in politics and is known for his work in polling and strategy for Republican candidates.

She was ranked as one of 40 under 40 by both Time and Fortune

While working to start a family and also manage her career in political campaign work, Sarah Huckabee Sanders started gaining recognition for her influence at such a young age. When she was working on John Boozman's 210 senatorial campaign, The Hill declared that she was one of the youngest campaign managers at just 27 years old at the time.

Later, at age 28, Huckabee Sanders was named one of Time magazine's "40 under 40" for "New Civic Leaders." In her interview with Time, she described how she hoped to stay in politics in some capacity while also revealing an interest in helping to improve the lives of children in America. On the subject of politics, she said: "I hope I never lose sight of why I got involved in the first place." In 2020, Fortune would add Huckabee Sanders to their own list of "40 under 40" in their "Government and Politics" category. She was 38 years old at the time.

She became the first mother to serve as White House Press Secretary in 2017

Sarah Huckabee Sanders was also deputy press secretary before officially replacing Sean Spicer as White House press secretary in 2017 at age 34. Not only is she one of the few women to hold the role; she was the first mother to have the job, as well as the first person from Arkansas to hold the role. She would go on to become Donald Trump's longest-serving press secretary, holding the role for two-and-a-half years. 

Huckabee Sanders was also no stranger to the Trump camp. She joined his presidential campaign in February 2016, where she took on the role of senior advisor.  After Trump's win, she would transition to his communications team. It was here that she refined her skills as a political spokesperson that would eventually land her the coveted press secretary role. Arguably, her years serving as White House press secretary were also the first time her name became more mainstream across the country. Not only was she an important defender of Trump, but Huckabee Sanders became a crucial member of the West Wing, who also had a calming persona that helped keep her boss's anxieties at bay. In fact, a former White House official told Politico: "I don't think she's replaceable. I don't think there's another one out there like her."

She left the White House in 2019

In June 2019, Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced she was leaving the White House and her press secretary role. During her time as press secretary, she was known for staying true to her boss, President Donald Trump, while also fighting on-air with reporters during her press briefings. When some of these reporters asked Huckabee Sanders whether she might run for Arkansas governor, as was speculated at the time, Politico quoted her as saying: "I learned a long time ago never to rule anything out."

Another possible reason for her departure could arguably have been the stress of the job. While it was certainly her responsibility to relay information from the White House to the public while defending Trump, the press briefings became increasingly contentious. In fact, toward the end of her tenure, she held fewer on-air briefings than normal and instead opted to appear on television for interviews or to make a few statements outside of the White House. Her successor, Stephanie Grisham, held even fewer briefings ... zero, to be exact. Stephanie held the role for less than a year. 

She announced recovery from thyroid cancer in 2022

While running for the GOP candidate for Arkansas governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders learned she had thyroid cancer in September 2022. She subsequently underwent a thyroidectomy to remove the entire thyroid gland as well as nearby lymph nodes. According to the American Thyroid Association, thyroid cancer is uncommon compared to other cancers seen in the United States, such as breast and colon cancer, but it still affects at least 44,000 people per year. Thyroidectomy is the standard treatment method for early cases of thyroid cancers, as was the case with Huckabee Sanders. Her diagnosis was stage 1 papillary thyroid carcinoma, which her doctor noted was the most common form of thyroid cancer and that her overall outlook was "excellent" (via NPR).

"This experience has been a reminder that whatever battle you may be facing, don't lose heart," Huckabee Sanders relayed in a statement reported by Politico. "As governor, I will never quit fighting for the people of our great state." As of 2023, the politician is still cancer-free. Since thyroid cancer can sometimes return many years later, she will likely undergo careful monitoring of her health. Her doctor also noted that she will need radioactive iodine treatment.

She was inaugurated as the governor of Arkansas in 2023

In January 2023, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was inaugurated as Arkansas' 47th governor. Not only is she the first woman to serve as governor in Arkansas, but she is also currently the youngest governor in the United States, at only 40 years old on the day of her inauguration, and the first daughter to serve as governor of the same state that a parent previously served. 

Huckabee Sanders' first full term as governor is slated to end in January 2027. Both her campaign and inauguration focused heavily on education reform. According to her gubernatorial campaign website, only 35% of third-grade students in Arkansas read at grade level. As such, she focused on "LEARNS" which stands for "literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking, and school safety."

Running as the GOP candidate for the Arkansas gubernatorial race, Huckabee Sanders succeeded another Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson. However, during her acceptance speech on election night in November 2022, Huckabee Sanders seemed eager to avoid partisan politics. The Associated Press quoted Huckabee Sanders telling voters: "This election is about taking Arkansas to the top. I know that Arkansas can be first, and I'm committed to being the leader who takes us there." Her high-profile role in the Trump White House and her subsequent recognition among voters also likely contributed to her sizable win in the governor's race. According to Ballotpedia, she won 63% of the popular vote, while Democratic candidate Chris Jones won 35.2%.

She revealed a surprising, healthier self

During her time as White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was unfairly criticized for her appearance, including the weight she carried after childbirth. Of course, not that she needed to explain her body to critics, but outrageous comments about her weight went more mainstream. Such was the case with a 2017 opinion article written by David Horsey, a long-serving political commentator and cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times. While particularly offensive portions of the original column have since been removed, Horsey apologized for comments about her looking like a "soccer mom," and others that were rightly perceived as body-shaming. "The paragraphs looking back were incredibly foolish and obtuse," he told The New York Times. "I just failed to see how those words were going to be received."

Nevertheless, Huckabee Sanders took public scrutiny of her appearance with grace and would eventually make a major body transformation during her race for Arkansas governor. Given that the weight loss was primarily achieved with healthy lifestyle habits, we can hypothesize that she wanted to lose weight for the sake of her health, and not to satisfy critics and body-shamers. In all, she lost a reported 50 pounds by eating healthy and balanced meals, practicing portion control, and exercising.

She's rumored to have presidential ambitions of her own

Shortly after her gubernatorial inauguration in Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered the GOP response to President Joe Biden's 2023 State of the Union address. The pre-recording was 10 minutes long, where she addressed what she and her party perceived as failures from the Biden administration. "Americans want common sense from their leaders, but in Washington, the Biden administration is doubling down on crazy," Huckabee Sanders said in the video (via the BBC).

She would go on to relay the typical elements of a partisan response to a State of the Union address, as is tradition in U.S. politics. However, it's what Huckabee Sanders said toward the end of her speech that raised some eyebrows. "It's time for a change. A new generation of Republican leaders is stepping up," she said. "Not to be caretakers of the status quo, but to be changemakers for the American people." Given that both President Biden and Donald Trump have been the subject of ageism, declaring that "a new generation" of leaders is needed isn't a unique argument. However, the fact that Huckabee Sanders, a woman, who has achieved a lot in her political career at a young age made this declaration has led to speculation that we may see her as a presidential candidate someday.