Jon Huntsman Jr. victory cry: be 'authentic'

Published June 20, 2011 7:59 pm

Politics • Utah Dems note ex-guv is changing some earlier positions.
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Washington • As Jon Huntsman Jr. steps into the crowded field of Republican presidential contenders, his path to the White House may not seem clear to many.

He's not well known in some early primary states. He has yet to gather the piles of cash some candidates have amassed. And his campaign is trying to attract supporters and even staffers.

So how does Utah's former governor win?

"By being authentic, by being honest, by being forthright in terms of our nation's spending and debt and the unsustainable nature of it," Huntsman said during a recent interview.

Huntsman resigned as President Barack Obama's ambassador to China 51 days ago, returning stateside and exploring whether he wanted to make a White House bid. Tuesday morning, from a state park overlooking the Statue of Liberty, Huntsman will tell the world he's running.

He is a late entry into a wide-open race for the GOP nomination, but Huntsman said that's OK. His experience and his vision, he said, will help carry his message.

"People are going to look at three things primarily."

One: private-sector experience.

"If we're going to get to a job-creating posture [it's going to be by] having somebody who actually understands the environment and the dynamic of the private sector," said Huntsman, who served as a business executive in the family's Huntsman Corp.

Two: governing experience.

"More than that," he added, "[someone who has created] an environment in a state that spoke to an expanded economy and job creation." Utah's jobless rate rose under Huntsman but at a much smaller clip than surrounding states, and Huntsman has touted bringing several new businesses to the state.

Third: foreign-policy expertise.

"In what is in an increasingly troubled world, having someone who has actually been in the world and understands it and can make sense of it in the country" is critical, said Huntsman, who has twice served as an ambassador in Asia and also as a deputy trade representative.

Huntsman believes his background — once voters know about it — will propel him to the nomination and the White House.

But Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland said Monday that Huntsman is anything but the genuine article.

Although Huntsman was embraced by many Democrats as governor, Holland said Huntsman is now running from previous positions supporting climate change, a health insurance mandate and an economic stimulus.

"When he announces his candidacy tomorrow, he'll launch a political-reinvention tour the likes of which we have not seen in our state, at least since Mitt Romney used the Salt Lake Olympics" to redefine himself, Holland said. "It's somewhat saddening to see a governor that many people respected appear to be pandering to what we call the tinfoil-cap crowd of the Republican Party."

Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said Holland's "distortions don't pass the smell test."

"Governor Huntsman led Utah as an economic conservative, cutting taxes, balancing budgets and passing free-market health care reforms without a mandate," Miller said. "That is the record he will run on."

In the end, according to Curtis Gans, director of American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate, the nomination battle comes down to whether the Republican Party is run by those who alignthemselves with the tea party or by more independent conservatives.

Obama "is vulnerable," Gans said. "If the Republicans don't nominate a tea party person, they have a shot and a good shot."

If Huntsman sticks by his mantra to be "authentic," he might grab the attention of Republicans who see him as the best one to beat Obama.

"Contrary to a lot of people, I take Huntsman's candidacy seriously," Gans said. "He is the most authentic person who is not a tea party clone."

After his announcement, Huntsman plans a cross-country tour to grab headlines and excite potential supporters, starting with a swing through New Hampshire on Tuesday afternoon for a rally and back to New York for a private fundraiser.

On Wednesday, Huntsman heads to Columbia, S.C., and then off to Florida. At each stop, Huntsman's job is to make a splash among Republicans who have yet to pick a candidate.

His pitch is pretty simple.

"I am first and foremost a father of seven kids who cares deeply about their future," the former governor said. "Second of all, I'm an American who wants to ensure the next generation is given the same kind of America we've got. I'm a passionate public servant. I'm someone who cares deeply, emotionally and passionately about our position in the world in what will be a highly competitive 21st century."

tburr@sltrib.com

Tribune reporter Robert Gehrke contributed to this story. —

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