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Jon Huntsman was a keyboard wizard, but is a presidential run a rock 'n' roll fantasy?

May 09, 2011|By James Oliphant
(Mary Ann Chastain/AP )

Jon Huntsman, to quote one Eric Clapton, has a rock 'n' roll heart.

"My initial passion in life was to be a rock 'n' roll musician," the possible GOP presidential candidate told graduates at the University of South Carolina--an early primary state if you're scoring at home--on Saturday.

"In my late teens you wouldn’t have recognized me. My hair was Rod Stewart shaggy; I wouldn’t wear anything but super skinny jeans," he said. "I ended up leaving high school a bit short of graduation to play with a band called Wizard. I thought it was my ticket to fame."

Wizard "rolled" (Huntsman's word) "in the ugliest green Ford Econoline van you could ever imagine with fold-up chairs in the back. It was pretty awesome until those inconvenient intersections, curves and stoplights caused those chairs to move around just a little bit. Seat-belts weren’t exactly enforced in those days."

The Rod the Bod reference may have stopped more than a few of the Class of '11 cold in their tracks, but Huntsman boosted his hep cat quotient by identifying one of his favorite musicians as Ben Folds--and quoted lyrics from his song "The Luckiest." That at least brought him into the 21st century.

Huntsman played keyboards. When Wizard didn't work out (the band's name does bring to mind rather awesome Video Concert Hall-style videos from the late 70s.), Huntsman rolled onto other pursuits, including stints in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations.

The Republican, son of a billionaire industrialist, was elected to two terms as governor of Utah before President Obama named him U.S. ambassador to China. Huntsman left that position at the end of last month as speculation swirled he was prepping a presidential bid. Recently, he formed a political action committee to help support GOP candidates, but has remained somewhat cagey about a presidential run.

Still, this week, Huntsman will tour Florida (will there be a T-shirt?) and make a trip to New Jersey to pay a call on neither Jon Bon Jovi nor Bruce Springsteen, but Republican rock star--and we use that term advisedly--Gov. Chris Christie.

The path Huntsman, a moderate who has, for example, called for action on climate change and has supported civil unions, could take to a presidential nomination remains unclear. Should he get in, he'll occupy much of the same political space as a fellow Mormon, Mitt Romney. (Research at this writing has yet to yield Romney's favorite band--but he did, according to MTV, get into a beef on plane last year with a rapper--which is also good for street cred.)

But there's also no doubt that the Republicans are scanning far and wide for a candidate who can spark some enthusiasm. Huntsman's putative campaign didn't dial down the notion of a run on Saturday, sending out reactions to the commencement speech via Twitter.

But one person who won't be signing up to follow the band is Erick Erickson, the conservative commentator who often appears on CNN. Writing on the blog RedState, Erickson Monday he would not support a Hunstman candidacy, largely because he thinks Huntsman was disloyal.

"The reason I will never, ever support Jon Huntman is simple: While serving as the United States ambassador to China, our greatest strategic adversary, Jon Huntsman began plotting to run against the president of the United States. This calls into question his loyalty not just to the president of the United States, but also his loyalty to his country over his own naked ambition," Erickson wrote. (Although it seems pretty clear Erickson isn't happy with Huntsman's record on the issues, either.)

Huntsman's possible run is being masterminded by John Weaver, a former strategist to John McCain, another reason why conservatives such Erickson are suspicious. But then, McCain won the nomination in 2008. Is Jon Huntsman ready to rock the world in a similar way?

james.oliphant@latimes.com

In our mind's eye, here's what Wizard looked like:

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