Washington • President Barack Obama’s campaign manager said Tuesday that he saw former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman as the biggest potential threat to the president’s re-election.
Jim Messina said Huntsman’s appeal to moderate voters could have dug into the Democratic president’s margin with that swath of Americans, whom Obama handily took to win a second term.
“We were honest about our concerns about Huntsman,” Messina said at an event sponsored by Politico. “I think Huntsman [as Republican nominee] would have been a tough general election campaign.”
Senior Obama adviser David Plouffe had expressed such concern even before Utah’s former governor launched his failed presidential bid, with one journalist noting that a Huntsman candidacy made Plouffe a “wee bit queasy.”
Huntsman suspended his White House bid after a disappointing third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, where he had bet all his campaign hopes. He endorsed Mitt Romney, the eventual GOP nominee.
The ex-Utah governor played up his conservative credentials but refused to kowtow on other issues, embracing the idea of climate change and civil unions.
Such positions could have helped Huntsman had he claimed the nomination and faced Obama in November. Obama won voters who described themselves as moderates 56 percent to Romney’s 41 percent, a 15-point margin Messina said Huntsman could have eaten into.
Huntsman’s daughter Abby Huntsman Livingston said Tuesday it was great to hear “confirmation” from Democrats about her father’s appeal.
“My dad is a principled, thoughtful and experienced leader ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century,” Livingston said. “In fact, many of the ideas he spoke to during the primaries, Republicans now recognize as a message more in line with a majority of Americans.”
Pressed by Politico’s Mike Allen whether Obama had nominated Huntsman as U.S. ambassador to China to take him out as a possible opponent, Messina earned a laugh from the audience with his answer.
“I thought he was a committed American who would serve our country well,” Messina said, “and he did.”
Huntsman has said in previous interviews that he is focused on his career in the private sector but hasn’t ruled out a future run for office. He currently sits on several corporate boards, including Ford Motor Co.