In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, chief political correspondent Matt Bai takes readers behind the scenes of Jon Huntsman’s nascent presidential campaign. Touring through New Hampshire and meeting with advisors, Huntsman, the former Utah governor and U.S. Ambassador to China, seems somewhat overwhelmed by the task before him — running for president, he says, is a bit like bungee jumping. You hope that the rope holds.
Huntsman today steps onto the national political stage. To be successful, he must prove ot Republican primary voters that he is their best hope for defeating President Barack Obama in 2012.
Following in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, Huntsman is announcing his candidacy at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, where the Statue of Liberty will be his backdrop. It’s a far-cry from Mitt Romney’s announcement on a picturesque New Hampshire farm, or Newt Gingrich’s on Twitter and YouTube.
The selection is downright presidential — and therefore risky. Huntsman is a new face in national politics, with one of the lowest name recognitions in the field, and he is doubling-down on his introduction.
He has many doubters, among them Nate Silver of The New York Times‘ FiveThirtyEight blog, who makes a convincing case for why Huntsman should not be considered a serious candidate like Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
But many Republican insiders are not so quick to dismiss Huntsman’s chances of success. First among these is his political consultant John Weaver, who first approached then-Governor Huntsman about running for President in 2009. Weaver, John McCain’s political guru in 2000 and 2008, was shocked Huntsman took Obama up on his offer to be Ambassador to China. “Yours is a family newspaper,” Weaver told Bai, “so I won’t say what I told him.”
As Weaver and Huntsman tell it, Weaver began laying the groundwork for a Presidential run early this year after Huntsman indicated to Newsweek that he and his family “may have one final run left in our bones.”
Weaver’s early machinations became “HorizonPac,” essentially a campaign-in-waiting for Huntsman which has drawn former McCain and Bush operatives. Its website scrolls through platitudes yearning for a more authentic Republican candidate, like “America can do so much better,” and “Maybe someday we’ll find a new generation of conservative leaders.”
Photo: Associated Press
If Weaver is right, today is that day. Huntsman’s advisors have primed the media and GOP voters for today’s announcement, beginning with cryptic ads featuring Huntsman factoids overlaid on video of a man riding a motocross bike across a Utah desert.
Weaver is betting on Huntsman’s “Bigness,” the strategist’s term for a political brand so pure that it defies party and ideology (Read: McCain in 2000, not 2008) — he contends Huntsman can be the next Maverick in New Hampshire — and beyond.
Despite his low name recognition, Huntsman has been received warmly in New Hampshire, though some are anxious to hear more about his platform.
“His attitude seems to be, ‘Well, I’m just up here introducing myself to people, and I’ll let you know what my positions are later,” Travis Blais, the Republican chairman in Windham, NH, told Bai.
Describing himself as a “pragmatic problem-solver,” Huntsman has distanced himself from the Tea Party and conservative wings of his party, a strategy well suited to the more independent-minded New Hampshire electorate. Huntsman also claims the best job-creation record as governor compared to his declared competitors, according to an analysis by National Review.
Like Romney, Huntsman is independently wealthy, capable of funding a good chunk of his campaign — including his early web videos and website. POLITICO reported late Monday night that Huntsman supporters advertised free food and free tickets to Saturday’s Southern Leadership Conference, explaining, at least in part, his second place finish in the straw poll there.
Huntsman says he will win by being the “authentic” GOP candidate, a not-so-subtle dig at Mitt Romney. He supports civil unions and believes in climate change – issues Romney has been accused of flip-flopping on.
But what may well be too difficult for Republican voters to stomach are the two years Huntsman spent in Obama’s employ. Cables released by WikiLeaks show Huntsman “deeply involved” in the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Check back later today for a report from Huntsman’s announcement.
Read the rest of Matt Bai’s article: Huntsman Steps Into the Republican Vacuum
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