Huntsman’s Hurting

Bookmark and Share    According to a new Public Policy Polling survey of Utah Republican primary voters, despite once having record approval numbers as Governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman can now only muster the support of 10% of his state’s Republican vote in the race for the G.O.P.’s presidential nomination.

Furthermore; according to the poll, among Utah Republican primary voters, Huntsman has a 46% disapproval rating and only a 43% approval rating. And when it comes to the Republican base vote in Utah, among those who consider themselves to be very conservative, PPP describes Huntsman as a “pariah” to them. Conservative Republicans give their former Governor a 29% approval rating while 61% give him a negative rating.

In a head-to-head match up of the still evolving Republican presidential field in Utah, PPP finds Mitt Romney with 63% of the Republican vote compared to Huntsman with 10%, Michele Bachmann with 6%, Sarah Palin with 5%, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul at 4%, Newt Gingrich at 3%, and Tim Pawlenty at 1%.

While this poll is far from conclusive, it is darn good evidence of just how elusive the Republican nomination is likely be for Jon Huntsman.

Given the influential Mormon demographic of Utah, this particular poll largely reflects how protective Mormons are of Romney. Among LDS members, inactivity within the community is heavily frowned upon. Romney is quite active within the LDS, especially compared to Huntsman who has been in China for two years. The poll also reflects a general lack of appreciation for Jon Huntsman’s willingness to join the Obama Administration. This is especially the problem among conservative Republicans. And therein lies the bulk of the evidence which leads one to conclude that Huntsman might have been better off either remaining the Governor of Utah or staying on as President Obama’s Ambassador to China.

A Republican presidential contender who has a 61% disapproval rating among conservatives, especially in the state they governed, is not likely to win over enough of the Republican base vote in a Republican primary.

The results of this recent PPP poll seem to suggest that Huntsman might have a better shot at winning the liberal, ….. eh….I mean Democrat…… nomination for President than he does the Republican presidential nomination. As for Mitt Romney, this survey proves that he has a lock on the Mormon vote, which is no big deal, but he has yet to prove that he can assure himself the same lock on the conservative base vote that he will need to win the nomination by the time the national convention is held in Tampa. The relatively meteoric rise in the polls of Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and the fact that many conservatives are sitting on their hands until Texas Governor Rick Perry makes a decision, is evidence of that doubt about Romney.

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Huntsman is Running But Will Republicans Turn Their Backs To Him Like Lady Liberty?

Ronald Reagan announcing his presidential candidacy in 1980

Bookmark and Share   With the backside of the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop, Jon Huntsman, the former Ambassador to China and Governor of Utah went to Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey and became the eighth Republican to officially announce his candidacy for President. In 1980, Ronald Reagan appeared in the same location to announce his presidential candidacy. Yet the exact angle from which candidate Reagan kicked off his campaign was quite different from the angle that candidate Huntsman used to kick off his campaign. Having been born in Brooklyn, New York and eventually moving to New Jersey, I am keenly aware of the fact that the Statue of Liberty faces New York, while offering New Jersey a view of her backside. Ronald Reagan’s campaign took this into account. Jon Huntsman’s campaign did not. When Reagan announced his candidacy, his campaign staged the event in Liberty State Park in such a way that aowed you to see the side of Lady Liberty from her side. 31 years later, Huntsman chose the same location, but at an angle that placed Lady Liberty’s rump in our face.

That observation may be superficial, but it is a sign of a campaign that is not as interested in the details as they should be.

Huntsman announcing his candidacy with Lady Liberty's back to him

And it was also a bit symbolic of Huntsman’s campaign kickoff. At best, Huntsman’s campaign announcement could be described as flat and uninspiring. His delivery was monotone and his need to constantly read from his written text that laid atop the podium before him, added to a performance that was not only uninspiring, but so scripted and unemotional that there was an unmistakable sense of insincerity surrounding the entire launch of his presidential campaign.

The former Ambassador ran through the now obligatory recitation of how as Governor, he did not raise taxes and how well his state was prepared to handle the national economic downturn. He spoke of how we need not “hope”, but answers, and he mentioned how the next great generation of Americans are looking for the type of leadership that will allow them to rebuild America and restore her promise.

In his speech, Huntsman also stressed civility, the need to restore it in politics and promised that his campaign will take the high road. He even went so far as to state that he greatly respects all the Republican presidential candidates and President Obama as well. However, prior to that statement, Huntsman took a subtle swipe at frontrunner Mitt Romney. In what was an obvious attempt to point out Romney’s more than decade old conversion from a pro-choice position, to a right to-life position, Huntsman pointed out that he has been a lifelong right-to-lifer. He then proceeded to call himself the “ultimate conservative.”

Calling ones self “the ultimate conservative” may seem to be smart political strategy in a field of candidates that will each be trying to outdo the other when it comes to who can move furthest to the right but it can only work if it is true and can be received without much laughter. In Huntsman’s case though, being called the ultimate conservative sounds more sarcastic than honest. Fiscal conservatives will argue that after increasing his state’s budget by 10% every year he was office, he is not fiscally conservative. Social conservatives will argue that Huntsman’s pro-gay marriage position is far from socially conservative. And all conservatives will consider his support of Cap-and-Trade from as recently as two years ago is not at all conservative.

So Huntsman’s strategic self description may not really be very smart. It only makes him a vulnerable target in the battle to win the far right base. By making his ultimate conservatism a theme of his campaign, his actual lack of conservative credentials on several issues and the willingness of his seven Republican opponents to point them out, will simply undermine his candidacy

Huntsman still has the chance to make the case that his position on gay marriage is actually where true conservatives should be. If true conservatism represents equal civil rights and limited government that refuses to interject itself into our bedrooms, our personal lives, and our personal decisions, than perhaps Huntsman has a point. However, a presidential nomination process does not afford one the time necessary to make that case and to convincingly change generations of ingrained, ideological thinking and beliefs. Rightly or wrongly, in a presidential primary contest, one must play to their base, not try to retrain them.

Truth be told, Jon Huntsman is quite qualified to be both the Republican presidential nominee and President of the United States. A carefully crafted campaign can make the case that he is probably the one person running in either political Party, with the best foreign affairs knowledge and experience of them all. His experience as a U.S. Trade Representative and his experience as Ambassador to Singapore and China, give Huntsman unique insight in the burgeoning Asian markets that are critical to the U.S. economy. And his undeniable expertise when it comes to China puts him in the unique position of understanding that world power better than all others running for President. That experience could be quite helpful in delicate and important international affairs that involve dangerously disruptive rogue regimes such as North Korea and even Iran. And as a governor, Huntsman did much to create a pro-growth environment that allowed the people of Utah to drive their state’s economy in a way that outperformed most all other states.

But is that enough to win the Republican presidential nomination? Probably not.

In 2012, Republicans want an anti-establishment candidate. And while frontrunner Mitt Romney may not be that person, since his 2008 campaign for President, he has built for himself a national level of support from those who believe he gets it, that Huntsman still lacks. Between that and the enthusiastic but albeit limited support for the anti-establishment candidacies of Bachmann, Cain, and Paul, there is little chance for Huntsman to gain the type of traction that will allow him to truly compete with Mitt Romney. That is especially the case if Huntsman keeps on trying to sell himself as the “ultimate conservative”. And it will be even worse for Huntsman if Texas Governor Rick Perry enters the race.

In the final analysis, based upon the record and Huntsman’s lackluster campaign announcement, I do not see him as being the Republican that voters have been waiting for and I see little chance for him to prove otherwise. Ultimately, just like the Statue of Liberty in the background of Jon Huntsman’s campaign announcement, I think most Republicans will turn their backs on him.

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Jon Huntsman To Declare His Presidential Candidacy at the Statue of the Liberty

Bookmark and Share   Next week, on Tuesday June 21st, former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman will make an announcement confirming that he is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. The announcement will take place at the Statue of Liberty which will serve as a backdrop for the kickoff of his presidential campaign.

After Minnesota Congresswoman confirmed her candidacy during Monday night’s Republican presidential debate, Jon Huntsman becomes the eighth major candidate to seek  the 2012 nomination. The total number of candidates stands at eleven when you include the fringe candidacies of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and Republican and gay activist Fred Karger.

Huntsman’s entry into the race is not expected to shake the Republican presidential field up in any significant way. While President Obama’s politicall strategists once considered Huntsman to be the Republican with the greatest chance to defeat the him in 2012, few if any Republicans currently believe that is true today. President Obama appointed Huntsman to the position of Ambassador to China shortly after he was elected and Huntsman was reelected to a second term as of Governor Utah. Some suggest the move was designed to take the one time popular Utah governor out of the electoral equation in 2012. If so, it is obvious that it didn’t work.

While Huntsman had accrued an impressive record of accomplishment as Governor, before he resigned to become the chief diplomatic envoy to China, he began to reveal some liberal opinions that fail to endear him to either the conservative base of the G.O.P. or the voters of Utah who comprise the most conservative and reliably Republican electorate of any state in the nation. In presidential elections, Republican candidates typically pull 65% or more of the vote in Utah. In 2008, even John McCain received 62% of the vote, beating Barack Obama by 28%. Unfortunately for Republicans though, Utah only has 5 electoral votes but in a close election they could be the 5 electoral votes that determine who is President. However; despite once having a near 70% approval from Utah voters, although Huntsman would surely win the state over President Obama in in the general election, it is not clear that he would win the state’s Republican primary.

Recent polls have Mitt Romney ahead of Huntsman in Utah.

While Huntsman will lack a portion of conservative approval on some social issues, his experience with China and the Far East could set him up to be strong on the issue of the economy and jobs, specifically job creation.Under Presidents George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush, before Huntsman was Governor of Utah, he was the ambassador to Singapore and before and then a U.S. trade representative specializing in Asia. It his experience with trade and Asia that afford Huntsman a unique upper hand on just how the United States can compete with, and tap in to, the burgeoning Asian markets that are critical in striking a proper American trade balance and essential to American job creation. This is an area which Mitt Romney attempted claim expertise in and tried to parlay to his advantage in his 2008 presidential campaign. It did not work all that well for Romney then and it remains to be seen if Jon Huntsman will have any luck with trying to make that case to the American people in 2012.

As he begins his campaign, Jon Huntsman has access to a decent fundraising capability and he has a personality and charm that is a plus but there is little to initially give any reason to believe that Huntsman will occupy a place in the field that is any more significant than Rick Santorum. Huntsman certainly has the potential to make in roads and he is a shoe in for the Giuliani vote, so long as Giuliani does not run. But the Giuliani vote is not enough to win the Republican presidential nomination. To do that, Jon Huntsman needs to compete with people like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum for the social conservative vote that is much more inclined to vote for one of them than they are to vote him.

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Huntsman Starts Campaiging For President in New Hampshire. What Effect Will He Have on the Race?

Bookmark and Share Although he is not yet an official candidate, former Utah Governor and ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, Jr. has today embarked upon his first swing through New Hampshire, the state that hosts the first in the nation primary. For the next five days, Huntsman is scheduled to do the type of retail campaigning that the state is famous for demanding of presidential candidates. He will be stomping at diners, grocery stores, VFWs and in one stop designed to specifically appeal to the conservative popularity of second amendment rights, Huntsman will visit a gun shop. The highlight of Huntsmans blitz of the Live Free of Die state will be the delivery of a commencement speech at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester on Saturday.

Huntsmans eventual effect on the Republican nomination contest is as of yet uncertain but at the very least, he has the ability to attract a coalition of enough moderate and liberal Republicans, and in states with open primaries like New Hampshire, enough Independent voters, to keep him in the game for the first half of the nomination process.

While Huntsmans actual record as a Governoris relatively conservative, upon leaving office to accept President Obamas appointment to be the chief envoy to China, Huntsman took a turn that made him a Giuliani-like mix of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. In addition to once being a supporter of Cap-and-Trade, after leaving office, the Governor who was immensely popular among the relatively ultra-conservative voters of Utah, voluntarily came out in support of a form of legalized gay marriage. The announcement came as quite a surprise not only because there was no political need for him to change his position, but also because that position was in direct conflict with Huntsmans Mormon faith.

Huntsmans political evolution will be a definite hindrance in his pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination. That will especially be the case in the early voting evangelical states of Iowa and South Carolina. But states like New Hampshire which are less influenced by the religious right, will provide Huntsman with a better opportunity to do well in. This is mainly because when it comes to the economic issues that will seemingly remain a top priority, Huntsman has an impeccable record to run on. In just the first two years in office, Huntsman had already achieved major tax reform, reduced the states sales tax on food and brought about a reduction in the income tax rate to a mere 5 percent. Other significant accomplishments included a focus on economic development by recruiting new business and talent to Utah while also growing those businesses that already existed. This led to a booming economy. The Governor also turned Utah into a state with a booming tourism industry.

During his four and a half years as Governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman established a reputation as the nations most popular governor. Almost a year after winning reelection to a second term, and accepting President Obamas appointment as Ambassador to China, Huntsman left office with a remarkable 86% approval rating. Even Democrats were sad to see him leave office. On his last day in office, David Litvack, Utahs Democrat House Minority Leader, said of Huntsman, I think its a day that is, in some respects, very solemn, Litvak added, To lose a type of leader like Gov. Huntsman, even as he goes on to great things in his new position, is definitely a loss for the state of Utah.

Another plus for Huntsman in the area of our economy comes from his strongest suit which is foreign affairs. As it relates to the economy in addition to his experience with Chinese diplomamcy, under President George W. Bush he was the ambassador to Singapore and before that, under President George H. W. Bush, was a U.S. trade representative specializing in Asia.

These three experiences help provide Huntsman with almost unsurpassable credentials in a number of critical foreign affairs matters but especiallyin regardsto the United States’ critically important economic need to tap into and compete with the lucrative and burgeoning Asian markets. Additionally, Huntsman is considered the single most knowledgeable public figure on China in the nation. As such, if you understand that the United States and China are the worlds two greatest economies, have the worlds two largest militaries and are the worlds two largest energy and carbon users, you can begin to see that Huntsmans experience with and knowledge of Asian relationships do indeed afford him the opportunity to address challenges of global importance.

The question is can Huntsman successfully translate that into a compelling case to solve U.S problems with trade imbalances, greater access to Asian markets and the creation of more American jobs? Still, even if Huntsman can make significant inroads in this area, based upon the balance of power that movement conservatives have in the Republican presidential nomination process, the Ambassadors chances of winning must rely heavily on that conservative base being heavily divided among other candidates. Can that vote be divided enough between Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Bachmann, Cain and other possible candidates like Palin and Daniels, and allow Huntsmans coalition of moderates and Independents to achieve a plurality of votes in individual state primaries and caucuses?

Huntsman hopes not only that the other candidates dilute the social conservative vote so much that none of them are able to piece together a winning majority, he intends to try to see that his strong fiscal conservative record peels off some of those conservative base voters for himself. That is one reason why on June 3rd, he will be attending the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington. While his position on gay marriage may conflict which a group like that, he hopes that his strong pro-life position combined with a perceived mastery of economic issues and a degree of electability that makes him seem more likely to be able to beat President Obama than other candidates, is enough for some of those voters to support him, even if only mildly.

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Expect Mitch Daniels to Run for President

Bookmark and Share Like the countdown to a space shuttle liftoff, the month of April has been ticking down to the launch or aborted missions of several different Republican presidential candidacies. The most notable are Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and soon to be former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Jr.. Both Daniels and Barbour have promised to make their decision some time by the end of April. Gingrich has recently suggested a similar timeline and Jon Huntsman who cant legally make an announcement while still serving as an Ambassador is likely to make his intentions known shortly after his April 30th resignation takes effect.

I predict that at least three of these men will be declaring their candidacy.

While that is not a bold prediction insofar as Gingrich and Huntsman go, it is a bit of a stretch to be so definitive about Barbour and even more so concerning Mitch Daniels.

As for Huntsman and Gingrich, the secret is out. Gingrich has done little to keep his intentions hush and as soon as Huntsman announced that he was resigning from his post as the nations chief envoy to China, we all pretty much knew that he was going to act on his already stated intention to look at a run for president in 2012. In the case of Barbour, his intentions have been quite clear, but so have his hurdles to a successful run for both the Republican presidential nomination and the presidency itself. His history as a very successful lobbyist, the oozing of some unfair Southern stereotypes, combined with a few early verbal gaffes on race, and his reputation as the ultimate political insider, pose the potential Barbour campaign with some obvious questions that they have had to figure whether or not they can overcome.

In an attempt to do so, Barbour has been lighting up switchboards from California, to Florida and South Carolina, as he tests the waters. He has even politely suggested that potential supporters hold their powder, and their money, until he makes a decision. Given the extent of Barbours effort so far, I tend to believe that he has the fire in the belly that gives one presidential fever, a fever that has to be fed in order for it break. So I expect that hemaysoonannopunce the creation of his presidential exploratory committee. This will be for two purposes. One is to confirm both how much fire really is in his belly and how amenable his wife is to the idea, and two, to see that if it is at all possible for the fire in his belly to be quite enough to win the White House. As for Mitch Daniels, I am going completely out a very shaky limb when I say that he will be running.

Accept for the talk of others, Mitch Daniels has done little if anything to appear like a potential Republican presidential candidate. And while he has taken advantage of a few high-profile speaking engagements, such events are in many ways only natural for a highly successful, two term governor. At the same time, it has been no secret that like Haley Barbours wife, Mitch Daniels wife Cheri is not thrilled by the prospects of having to endure an invasive and inevitably harsh presidential campaign. So there is really very little to support my conclusion that Mitch Daniels will run.

Except for three things.

The lovely Mrs. Cheri Daniels

First is Cheri Daniels. While she is not a fan of the spotlight and is not excited about the possibility of having to join her husband on the presidential campaign trail, in this, Daniels last year as Governor of Indiana, Cheri has agreed to be the main speaker at a Republican State Party dinner. That is not exactly the sign of a spouse preparing to fade in to the obscurity of private life. It sounds to me more like an introduction of both her to the people, and of Cheri to the spotlight.

Another event having me lean more towards a Daniels run, than against it, is the timing of a major speech on education that the Governor is slated to give in Washington, D.C. at the American Institute. This event is five days after the Indiana state legislative session is scheduled to conclude. Daniels has promised to announce his decision regarding the presidency when that sessionis over. It is here that I do not expect Daniels to announce that he is running, but rather the start of either his exploratory committee or the very soon date to come when he will make a similar announcement.

The final reason I have for believing that Mitch Daniels is in fact running for President has to do with his dragging the question out. Mitch Daniels is an understated man. He is not about the drama. He is a nuts and bolts guy and he had nothing to gain by dragging out the possibility of a presidential candidacy. His whole reason for not announcing his interest in running was due to state politics. Daniels did not want the left to accuse the him of advancing policies that were good for his presidential aspirations but bad for the state. And if Governor Daniels would have been able to get rid of that suspicion altogether by announcing that he was not running for President, he would have done that long ago.

There are of course some caveats.

I do not yet sense that Mitch Daniels has the same fire in the belly that his longtime close friend Haley Barbour does. For that reason, I am suspicious of there beingsome friendly teamwork going here. As I described in a previous White House 2012 post entitled Is a Barbour/Daniels Ticket in the Works? , Daniels could become a candidate in order to help divide the vote outside of the South, between himself, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney. This split would allow Barbour to fare better outside of the South where he does not do so well. It would also help keep Mitt Romney from racking up big numbers. In that scenario, Daniels would eventually drop out of the race and try to swing his delegates over to Haley Barbour.

This may sound too Machiavellian to some but this is the big time. It is politics at the highest level and few know how to play politics better than the ultimate political insider, Haley Barbour. That combined with a well established, longstanding friendship between Barbour, Daniels and their families, makes this not quite as far-fetched as some might be inclined to think.

I for one hope that isnt the case. As someone who in 2008, supported Mitt Romney for President, was a part of the Draft Sarah Palin for Vice President movement, and is currently torn between them Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels and Newt Gingrich, I am looking forward to a genuine battle for my support. I am hoping for a contest that will force the eventual nominee to have to truly earn the nomination and allow us to discover who truly represents our conservative values best, can advance them the most, and is most capable of applying them to the practical application of government. I believe all of the above mentioned names are candidates who can do that. The question is, which one can do all three the best? It is my deepest wish to find that out through a well fought contest, that publicly tests all these skills among all the candidates.

But before that process begins, I expect this final week in April to be slow, in the sense of it being a slow build up to a very busy May.

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Jon Huntsman’s Republican Primary Speaking Engagements

Bookmark and Share If Ambassador Jon Huntsman isnt running for President, someone needs to tell him. The former Governor of Utah only has two weeks before his resignation as ambassador to China takes effect, yet before he even has time to unpack his bags, he already has a list of speaking engagements that follows the presidential primary path to the White House.

As reported here last week Huntsman is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester on May 21st. Now it is reported that Huntsman, will be delivering the is giving a University of South Carolina commencement speech May 7.

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Huntsman To Speak In New Hampshire

Bookmark and Share Ambassador Jon Huntsmans resignation from his post as the chief envoy to China but that hasnt stopped him from accepting to deliver the keynote speech at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester on May 21, shortly after his resignation does take effect.

Huntsmans foray into New Hampshire could mark the beginning of campaign that has the potential to upturn the common thinking about the potential Republican presidential field. It is also likely to cut deepest in to the candidacy of Mitt Romney, the man who is currently viewed as an early frontrunner.

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