Jon Huntsman Heads To New Hampshire
The enigmatic Jon Huntsman, who some political pundits apparently think is in a good position to make waves in the GOP race for President, is headed for his first trip to New Hampshire:
Jon Huntsman Jr. sets off Thursday on his first campaign-style swing through New Hampshire, testing whether his moderate brand of politics can find a place in today’s Republican Party.
In a likely presidential bid, he would bring with him a political resume punctuated by his stint as President Obama’s ambassador to China and loaded with centrist positions on immigration, cap-and-trade climate legislation and gay rights.
That could be an uneasy fit in a GOP primary season that is already pushing candidates to the right. So much so that Huntsman’s aides reject the suggestion that he is a moderate — one called it the “M-word” — and describe the former Utah governor as a mainstream conservative with a solid record of antiabortion legislation and tax cuts.
In an up-for-grabs Republican field, Huntsman would enter as a relative newcomer, with a low national profile and a weak presence in the polls. But he couldn’t be dismissed. He is telegenic, has access to a vast family fortune, worked for several presidents and has assembled a team of strategists with national campaign experience — this week he landed a former Mike Huckabee adviser in South Carolina.
Still, Huntsman’s path through the GOP primary would require some airbrushing and some work to build a base of moderate supporters in a party that finds much of its energy and enthusiasm in its conservative wing.
“His strength and his weakness is that he would make a better president than presidential candidate,” said Matthew Burbank, a University of Utah professor of political science who closely watched Huntsman’s tenure as governor. “He was well regarded in Utah, thoughtful, low-key and not prone to scoring political points. And he didn’t always keep the most conservative people happy.”
Huntsman’s path through the primaries would probably be this: Leave the social conservatives to Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, should they run, and instead focus heavily on Chamber of Commerce Republicans, Democrats and independents in the early states with open primaries.
The main obstacle on that route would be Mitt Romney, a longtime Huntsman rival, who has a strong head start in New Hampshire and is eyeing a similar coalition.
Not just Romney, but also Mitch Daniels, should he run and, to some extent, Tim Pawlenty would also arguably be competing for those same voters. What, exactly, is it that Huntsman brings to the table that those three lack? Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve heard people talk about his record as Governor and what a great campaigner he’ll make, but he hasn’t done anything to prove himself yet. It’s said he’s fiscally conservative and socially moderate, and that’s certainly appealing, but its strikes me as bizarre for him to be talked about as a top-tier candidate when he has less name recognition than Herman Cain. Perhaps Hunstman will prove himself and, three months from now, we’ll be talking about the “Huntsman surge,” but before that happens he needs to prove himself.