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The Daily Fray / campaign 2012

Jon Huntsman Looks Very Good on Paper

Former Utah Governor John Huntsman.(Chet Susslin)

June 20, 2011

CORRECTION: The original version of this report misspelled Mark Halperin's and Zvika Krieger's names.

Jon Huntsman will announce he's running for president on Tuesday with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop—just as Ronald Reagan did in 1980. Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China, isn't well-known among Republican voters, but the campaign launch is supposed to highlight his ties to Reagan, Politico's Mike Allen reports. With Republicans not all that enthusiastic about the current 2012 lineup, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty faltering in the most recent primary debate, Huntsman is some Republicans' next hope to be the Not Mitt Romney candidate. But given that he worked for President Obama, supported caps on greenhouse-gas emissions, and backed civil unions for gay couples, does he have a chance? NBC News's First Read notes that Huntsman certainly looks good on paper, "but so far, the premise of the campaign has been tactics. What does he believe? He begins answering that question tomorrow. Will his answers ring authentic?"

  • McCain-Esque Moderate The New York Times's Matt Bai reports that Huntsman's strategists hope to launch him as a less ideological candidate who can appeal to moderates and independents in New Hampshire, which is how John McCain caught fire in 2000. Then he can take that momentum to South Carolina and Florida. "The most obvious problem with this theory, though, is that, in McCain's case, it has always been impossible to separate political identity from biography. What conservatives knew about McCain, first and foremost, was that he was a bona fide American hero who refused to accept his own early release from a P.O.W. camp.... It won't be so easy for Huntsman, whom most Republicans barely know, and whose privileged background includes no heroics, unless you count defying his parents and dropping out of high school to play keyboards for a band called Wizard."
  • A Lot of Digging to Do NBC News's First Read notes two reports out Monday that show Huntsman will be in for tougher treatment as a for-real candidate. Bloomberg reports that his family's company's revenue in China grew by 57 percent while he was ambassador. And a subsidiary of the company sold Iran polyurethane, which could be used in missiles, Politico reports.
  • Blue-Chip Backer Time's Mark Halperin notes that C. Boyden Gray has endorsed Huntsman and calls it "the first, but by no means the last, of eye-catching endorsements Huntsman will get from the GOP Establishment, including many with ties to Ronald Reagan and Bushes 41 and 43. Gray's endorsement will be a semiotic dog whistle for a lot of big-time bundlers.... It will give him a leg up on becoming the Romney Alternative."
  • How the China Gig Helps Him The New York Times's Jim Rutenberg reports that Obama was hailed for his "political wizardry" when he named Huntsman as ambassador to China, sending one of his main 2012 threats to the other side of the globe. But now the decision doesn't look 100 percent genius. Huntsman's resume "has bolstered his position as the only candidate in a field dominated by former governors to have direct foreign policy experience. And it put him in proximity to some of the nation’s leading chief executives—and potential campaign donors and fundraisers—as they sought assistance in doing business with China. Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks show meetings with the leading executives from Cisco, Pfizer and Wal-Mart; close contact with the United States Chamber of Commerce; and requests for help from the Las Vegas Sands casino, the chairman of which, Sheldon Adelson, is a major Republican fund-raiser."
  • Opportunist Obama adviser David Axelrod told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday that while he was ambassador, Huntsman seemed quite enthusiastic about Obama's policies—and that he didn't plan on running in 2012.

"[Huntsman] was very effusive, this was in the fall of 2009, about what the president was doing. He was encouraging on health care, he was encouraging on a whole range of issues. He was a little quizzical about what he was going on in his own party. And you got the strong sense that he was going to wait until 2016 for the storm to blow over.

"And obviously circumstances change.

"So I was surprised when he emerged as a candidate. But certainly I take him seriously....

"I think what has changed is not his view of the economy, but his view of his own chances to perhaps win the nomination.

"I understand that's politics. He's a politician. And he sees an opportunity."

  • He's Setting Up for 2016 The New Republic's Jonathan Chait points to a 2009 article by Zvika Krieger in which Huntsman complains that Republicans are dooming themselves to minority status by not reaching out to a broader demographic—and that two years wasn't enough time to change that. Chait writes, "It's not like the GOP has moved to the center since then, either. So why is he running now? Almost certainly, Huntsman is hoping to raise his name recognition, run a credible campaign, and then, if and when a prospective Obama reelection prompts the party to move to the center, set himself up as an acceptable candidate for 2016."
  • The More Things Change Interestingly, though Huntsman hopes to echo Reagan, another prominent Republican announced his candidacy with Lady Liberty over his shoulder in 1995—Pete Wilson, then governor of California, a politician with a decidedly less broad appeal. And yet, if you look at The New York Times's story on the announcement, it feels like you could rip whole paragraphs from it and stick them in tomorrow's Huntsman write-up, and no one would know the difference. For example:
    "He has blocked reform," he said, accusing the President of "waving the white flag" of surrender on domestic issues and "rattling rubber sabers" on foreign issues.

    Then, laying out a vision of "fairness" that he hopes will appeal to the disenchanted in the middle class and give his campaign a lift, the Governor said the best way to restore the nation's optimism and promise was to reward hard work and individual merit, hold citizens personally responsible for their actions, preserve family values and shrink the size, cost and intrusiveness of government.
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