Jon Huntsman Running For John McCain Of 2012

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May 19, 2011 7:24 am
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Now that he’s no longer a member of President Obama’s administration, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) is free to campaign for president. And campaign he shall, starting today in New Hampshire.

Early signs of how Hunstman plans to win the nomination as a man best known in Republican circles as a moderate and best known in Democratic circles as Obama’s ambassador to China point to Huntsman picking up where John McCain left off.Huntsman’s sweep through New Hampshire starts tonight with a meet and greet event at a Lebanon, NH restaurant hosted by McCain’s 2008 co-chair.

As the Union Leader‘s John DiStaso reported, Huntsman’s kickoff New Hampshire sweep is “chock full of small-venue ‘retail’ stops with a strong John McCain 2008 flavor.”

The Granite State was the launch pad for both of McCain’s presidential campaigns. His upset win in 2000 propelled him into the national consciousness as the Death Star-battling moderate that briefly defined his career. His New Hampshire win in 2008 brought his second presidential bid back from the dead and propelled him to the eventual nomination.

So it’s not a bad model for Huntsman — who if he gets in, is getting in early and with some baggage — to follow. And follow it he shall. Huntsman’s hired John Weaver, former McCain adviser, as lead adviser for his Horizon PAC campaign-in-waiting.

Weaver told The Fix team that appearances can be (slightly) deceiving.

“Every campaign reflects the candidate, not the people who work for the candidate,” said Weaver. He added, however: “Do we know how to campaign in New Hampshire and do we know the state well and do we have a lot of trusted friends there? Yes. And that’s a big plus.”

Huntsman’s going to need all the friends he can get in New Hampshire. Because he’s certainly got his share of enemies already. Former state Republican chair and governor John Sununu calls him “barely a Republican.”

And though his moderate past may have once made Team Obama worry, the Republican primary landscape Hunstman faces is not exactly fertile ground for a man who supports civil unions and refuses to call climate change a hoax.

His team is clearly worried about labeled with the scarlet M, as the Washington Post‘s Nia-Malika Henderson reports:

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.

It might be a hard case to prove, however, considering Huntsman called himself a “moderating voice” back in 2009.

How does Huntsman intend to do it? ABC’s Note offers these hints:

According to Huntsman aides, the former ambassador plans to hit several talking points hard when he engages in the retail politicking so crucial to winning New Hampshire. He’ll discuss “his view from 10,000 miles away in China.” He will say, “America remains inspiration of world but we need to fix our economic core. He knows how to do it: Utah was rated best managed, best state for business, best tax policy. They weathered recession growing jobs and maintaining a rainy day fund.

Will a focus on economics and foreign policy know-how be enough to bring New Hampshire around to Huntsman? Time will tell. But if he can pull off what McCain did in the Granite State, it will silence many of his critics. Polls show he has a longer way to go than McCain did. This WMUR poll from early May shows Huntsman drawing zero percent support in New Hampshire, while several national polls from earlier in the year showed him drawing around 1% across the country.

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