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Jon Huntsman's campaign manager resigns

July 21, 2011|By James Oliphant and Matea Gold | Washington Bureau
  • Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman campaigns in Utah earlier this month.
Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman campaigns in Utah earlier this month. (Jim Urquardt / Associated…)

As presidential candidate Jon Huntsman seeks to gain some traction in the GOP race, he’s shaking up his campaign team.

His campaign manager, Susie Wiles, resigned Thursday. The campaign said Huntsman’s candidacy was moving into a more aggressive phase.

"Susie has served the campaign well and was vital in getting it off the ground in such a short time frame,” said John Weaver, a senior advisor to Huntsman. “In just under three months, Governor Huntsman has returned from China, launched a campaign and created a strong infrastructure in the three early primary states. He's built important relationships with donors, as well as political, policy and grass-roots leaders that other candidates have been courting for half a decade."

The move was first reported by the Washington Post.

Wiles will be replaced by Matt David, who had been Huntsman’s communications director. David was an aide to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Weaver, a top strategist, was an aide to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.

Huntsman hasn’t had the smoothest rollout of any candidate. His campaign announcement event in New Jersey in June was plagued by small mix-ups such as Huntsman’s first name being misspelled on press cards and the failure to include the Statue of Liberty as the backdrop in live TV shots. Since then, some of his events have been mocked for featuring more reporters than voters.

Polls so far have not been kind. They routinely show the former two-term Utah governor at the bottom of the pack. And it has been difficult for Huntsman to find his own space in the crowded field. He’s presented himself as the moderate, experienced alternative to Mitt Romney, but Romney hasn’t made many missteps.

At the same time, because of that image, he hasn’t exhibited much appeal to the kind of social conservatives that dominate the Iowa caucuses and are key voters in other primary states.

To his credit, Huntsman has shown some ability to raise money. And there remains the possibility that he could compete in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he has made a concentrated effort.

Wiles and her husband, Lanny, have been part of Huntsman’s inner circle ever since he started contemplating a presidential bid.

Susie Wiles is a longtime Republican operative in Florida who ran Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign in 2010. Earlier this year, she was hired as the executive director of Horizon PAC, a Utah-based political action committee set up in late September 2010 by Weaver and a trio of Huntsman allies with the aim of "identifying a new generation of conservative leaders."

While Huntsman was still ambassador to China, Horizon PAC hired a national pollster, a communications director and staff in the key  nominating states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Once Huntsman returned to the United States in May and began actively considering a bid, Susie Wiles and other staff moved over to HPAC, a federal political action committee that financed Huntsman’s travels and activities. She was made national campaign manager after Huntsman announced his bid in June.

In late June, the campaign announced that Neil Ashdown, who served as Huntsman’s chief of staff when he was Utah governor and ambassador, would become deputy campaign manager, a move seen as an effort to shore up the campaign’s top leadership. The campaign also added Conyers Davis, another former Schwarzenegger aide.

Lanny Wiles, a veteran advance man who worked on Ronald Reagan’s campaigns and has known Huntsman for decades, has played a key role in arranging the logistics of Huntsman’s appearances even before he jumped in the presidential race. He frequently travels with the former Utah governor.

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