LITTLE ROCK — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee vouched for the character of attorney general candidate Leslie Rutledge during a Republican Party rally on Monday, the first day of early voting for the Nov. 4 election.

LITTLE ROCK — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee vouched for the character of attorney general candidate Leslie Rutledge during a Republican Party rally on Monday, the first day of early voting for the Nov. 4 election.


Huckabee and several other Republican candidates spoke to about 150 people at the rally in Little Rock’s River Market district. Huckabee said Rutledge has faced "tremendous attacks" in her bid to become the first Republican and the first woman elected as Arkansas attorney general.


Rutledge, of Little Rock, is vying with Democratic state Rep. Nate Steel of Nashville and Libertarian Aaron Cash of Springdale to succeed Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who is prohibited by term limits from seeking a third term.


"Some have tried to cast aspersions upon her work history, upon her character," said Huckabee, who was governor from 1996 to 2007. "I had the privilege of being Leslie’s employer in the governor’s office when she was in the office of legal counsel for the governor’s office back during those years, and I want you to know, somebody has asked, ‘Would you hire her again?’ Well here’s the answer: I did."


Recently, documents have surfaced showing that after Rutledge left a position with the state Department of Human Services in 2007 to join Huckabee’s presidential campaign, she was placed on a "do not rehire" list at that agency for what was termed "gross misconduct." Rutledge has said she thinks politics may have been behind DHS officials’ actions.


Emails Rutledge sent while employed by DHS also have surfaced, including one written in a dialect some have described as racist. Rutledge has said she passed the email on but did not write it; the email’s author has said the dialect — "De problem be wit his baby momma" is a typical line — was "a literary device" intended to simulate Southern, not ethnic, speech.


"Folks, if I didn’t have confidence in her the first time, I wouldn’t have hired her," Huckabee said at Monday’s rally. "And if I didn’t have confidence in her the second time, I certainly wouldn’t have done it because I didn’t have to."


Rutledge pledged to fight against overreach by the federal government and said Steel would not do the same.


"Nate Steel will not stand up to Barack Obama," she said. "Nate Steel is part of the good ol’ boys, double dipping, being a state legislator and being the city attorney down in his hometown in Nashville. It’s just more of the same with Nate Steel. But with Leslie Rutledge you’re going to get somebody that will push back against the EPA, stand up for Arkansas values, protect our farmers and business owners."


Steel said in an email Monday that Rutledge’s comments were "a complete misrepresentation of the facts" and an attempt to divert attention from "constant news stories about her."


"While my focus has always been on public safety here in Arkansas, I have been on record several times vowing to take action against overburdensome EPA actions such as the recent carbon regulations," he said. "That’s why I have so much support among the business community in Arkansas, including Tyson Foods and Walmart. Ms. Rutledge cannot say the same. I have a record of standing up to both parties to do what is best for my constituents, which has earned me broad bi-partisan support, while my opponent consistently tows the party line."