Ahead of 2016, Huntsman starts new political group
Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is launching a new political action committee to try and drive the Republican Party toward his ideas and to support like-minded candidates.
The move also hints at a possible second presidential bid, though Huntsman says he isn't planning that far ahead.
"Would anybody be that crazy; I'm not sure," Huntsman told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday. "What it does signal is that I'm terribly interested in the issues that will drive the debate and terribly interested in ideas that can revitalize and give new life to the direction of the Republican Party; I think that's terribly needed."
The Utah-based Red Rock PAC will allow Huntsman to crisscross the country to keep his ideas in the conversation. It can't financially support federal candidates but could be used to donate to local races and pay for staff and travel costs.
Since dropping out of his first White House bid last year, Huntsman has joined signed on to help various groups, from a commission on protecting intellectual property to serving on the board of Ford Motor Co., but his creation of a PAC will help thrust him back into the political sphere.
Huntsman's long-time, right-hand-man, Neil Ashdown, is treasurer of the new group and Mark McIntosh, a former 2012 aide, is serving as president of the PAC. The group has also hired former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter as general counsel and a new communications consultant, Joe Kildea.
Huntsman says he wants to return the focus on tackling big issues like reforming taxes, education and immigration and developing an energy policy for the future, key concerns that Huntsman talked about during his presidential run.
"Either your ideas resonate or they don't and if they don't you walk away," Huntsman said Thursday. "And if there is some connection between those who hear your ideas and those who are offering up solutions then maybe there's more to come."
Huntsman can't financially support federal candidates, though he says he may start a federal political action committee down the road.
Huntsman aides began his 2012 campaign by forming another Utah group, the Horizon PAC, while the ex-Utah governor was still serving as U.S. ambassador to China. That PAC paid for staff and activities ahead of his formal campaign.
He chose to start a new group in Utah, Huntsman said, because that's "my home." Utah law allows unlimited political contributions from people and corporations.
Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also had a Utah-based PAC between his two White House runs.
"After running for office, founding a political action committee is a way to stay relevant, a way to stay in the conversation, especially when a party is reinventing itself like the Republican Party is today," says Reid Wilson, editor of the National Journal's Hotline. "If Jon Huntsman wants any say in the direction of that re-invention, this is a good way to do it."
Moreover, Wilson says, GOP moderates will need Huntsman's cash and clout if they want to help drive their message through the current conservative climate in the Republican Party.