If the motorcycle-riding governor of Indiana hadn’t just ruled out a White House bid in 2012, there might be enough prospective presidential candidates for a drag race.
First, Sarah Palin donned a black leather jacket and roared into Washington, D.C., for Rolling Thunder’s annual Memorial Day motorcycle rally.
Now, Jon Huntsman plans to ride a hog to a Saturday rally for Laconia Motorcycle Week, an 88-year-old tradition that attracts hundreds of thousands of bikers to New Hampshire every year.
This is going to be the coolest presidential campaign ever.
“I guess Huntsman is trying to say, “Look at me and who I am rubbing elbows with,’ " said Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. “As a motorcyclist, if I see a gentleman on a motorcycle, I think, 'Maybe I can relate to him?' "
(PICTURES: Republicans and their motorcycles)
The last time a presidential campaign used two wheels to spice up a candidate’s image was when John Kerry straddled a Harley on the stage of NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. At the time in November 2003, Kerry was trying to regain traction in the Democratic field that he had lost to Howard Dean.
Like Kerry, Huntsman is a wealthy, silver-haired, Ivy League-educated political insider who could use a little roughing around the edges to appeal to blue-collar workers and young voters. His auspicious resume includes stints as President Obama's U.S. ambassador to China, governor of Utah, and administration official under the last three Republican presidents.
But Huntsman has been flaunting his inner outlaw ever since he returned from China six weeks ago and began plotting his rise from political insider to presidential contender.
"My initial passion in life was to be a rock-and-roll musician," he said in a commencement speech last month at the University of South Carolina. He went on to tell the graduates how he had dropped out of high school to play with a rock band and favored long hair and skinny jeans.
For Palin, the former governor of Alaska, a motorcycle reinforces her image as a rogue politician living on the edge. Nothing says independence like the rev of the engine on the open road. Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., touted their enthusiasm for motorcycles to prove they were tough enough for the macho culture of the Wild West.
The short, balding governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, has a whole section of his official website devoted to his enthusiasm for motorcycles. Visitors can learn about the governor’s first bike (a Suzuki 90 dirt bike) the first and only time he did a wheelie (the first time he rode) and his most memorable bike experience (a Great Pyrenees farm dog bit his leg).
"In almost 35 years of riding, I’ve always enjoyed the sense of freedom on a motorcycle,’’ Daniels says on his website. “It’s the best thing in this job; when you have helpful people taking you around and protecting you—even though we keep that to a minimum—the only time I’m really alone it seems is when I’m on two wheels. They are back there a few car-lengths somewhere, but I do have the illusion of freedom."
Huntsman, 51, was 11 when he bought his first minibike with money he earned on a newspaper route. He used to race motorcross and owns a dirt bike and a 1999 Harley Davidson Road King. In 2008, Utah Adventurer wrote, “It was immediately clear, after only speaking for a few moments, that Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was a motorcross junkie. He was hooked.… It was visibly his not-so-secret passion and a lifelong love affair.’’