Jon Huntsman’s potential presidential bid intensifies Thursday with his first campaign-style trip through New Hampshire—a state that could prove key to his White House hopes.
The former Utah governor embarks on a five-day, 11-city tour of the early primary state, starting this evening at a restaurant in Hanover.
“Gov. Huntsman will be introducing himself to the state in a manner that suits both him and Granite Staters -- personal conversations at diners and country stores,” Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said. “There he will discuss the need to get our fiscal house in order and create jobs as well as his proven track record of doing just that as governor of Utah.”
Huntsman may not be looking to focus on his since-completed tenure as U.S. ambassador to China under President Obama and his moderate stance on issues such as climate change and gay rights. Instead, like Mitt Romney, to whom Huntsman is frequently compared, the focus will be on his business background as a job-creator. (Before his career in politics, he was an executive with the multibillion-dollar corporation his father founded.) And like Romney, Huntsman may have to rely on more moderate Republicans and independents if he is to catch fire.
At a speech in South Carolina earlier this month, Huntsman explained his service in the Obama administration as a matter of patriotism and public service. He has also worked in Republican administrations.
It’s unclear what path Huntsman would take to the GOP nomination, but it likely would come at Romney’s expense. And it may have been no accident that this week, he set up what amounts to a campaign headquarters in Orlando, Fla.
Assuming he gets in the race and is competitive in some early contests in New Hampshire and elsewhere, Huntsman, like Rudolph W. Giuliani in 2008, could end up betting heavily on Florida, which could hold its primary as early as the end of January. There, he may benefit from ties to former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Beyond Romney, another threat to Huntsman’s putative bid lies in Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana. Should Daniels, who also enjoys a good reputation as a fiscally minded, moderate-leaning Republican, get in the race, there may not be enough room for him, Romney and Huntsman.
But there is no doubt that the decision of Mike Huckabee to skip a 2012 run, along with the recent struggles of Newt Gingrich to get his campaign on track, has created a sense of opportunity. And Huntsman’s effort received some good news this week when Huckabee’s 2008 South Carolina chairman, Mike Campbell, signed on.
"On his recent visit to South Carolina, I had the opportunity to meet with Gov. Jon Huntsman, and I was extremely impressed,” Campbell said in a release. “As governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman demonstrated he is the type of problem-solver our country needs. He's a proven conservative who cut taxes, grew jobs, passed free-market healthcare reform and signed strong pro-life legislation.”
Emphasis on the word “conservative.” It’s those kinds of endorsements Huntsman will be looking for in New Hampshire and elsewhere. He’ll wrap up his tour of the state on Monday.