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Republican presidential candidate former, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, campaigns at a town hall event at Norton's Classic Cafe in Nashua, N.H. Huntsman's defining moment in the Republican presidential race could be here, and now, in the towns and villages of New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)
Huntsman: Is this the moment for the ‘Sane Republican’?
First Published Jan 07 2012 09:30 am • Last Updated Jan 08 2012 03:43 pm

KEENE, N.H. • There’s a question that Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman loves to pop out from time to time as he campaigns across New Hampshire: "What language do you want me to answer in?"

Tossing out a sentence or two in Mandarin gives Barack Obama’s former U.S. ambassador to China an opportunity to showcase his foreign policy credentials and position himself as a cultural bridge-builder. Not to come off as too highbrow, though, Huntsman also adopts a fake New Hampshire accent at times and joshes about eating lobster rolls for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Both ploys hint at the challenge facing Huntsman, whose defining moment in the Republican presidential race could be here, and now, in the towns and villages of New Hampshire.

After sitting out the Iowa caucuses and investing all his hopes in this state, Huntsman has struggled to find a voice that resonates with voters. The former Utah governor is proud to announce that he’s no longer "the margin-of-error candidate" — in New Hampshire, at least. But he’ll need to do far better than that for his campaign to continue after Tuesday’s primary.

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"Who’s that guy?" a factory worker asked as Huntsman visited a plant in Keene recently.

The answer — Huntsman’s biography — is complex.

He’s an Obama administration appointee running in a GOP primary where candidates have been working to out-conservative one another.

He’s a Mormon navigating a process typically dominated by evangelicals.

He’s a Harley-riding, high-school dropout who frequents taco stands, and the son of a billionaire businessman.


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Here’s what Huntsman, 51, would have you know, first and foremost: "I can get elected."

To expand on that, he offers himself as the "sane Republican," one offering "good, center-right, pragmatic, problem-solving leadership."

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"We’ve got to have someone who isn’t being teed up by the establishment," Huntsman says in dismissing his GOP rivals.

Huntsman has never been traditional or establishment.

Growing up in Utah, he ditched the end of high school to play with local jazz and rock bands.

Those years ended when he briefly enrolled at the University of Utah through a program that granted him admission without a high school diploma. He then went on a Mormon mission to Taiwan, where he learned to speak Mandarin.

He later attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a degree in political science, then entered public service and eventually worked for President Ronald Reagan and both Bush presidents.

In 1993, after leaving his post as ambassador to Singapore, Huntsman became president of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and eventually CEO of Huntsman Family Holdings, the umbrella company for the multibillion-dollar corporation founded by his father.

Huntsman first ran for Utah governor in 2004, winning with 57 percent of the vote.

As governor, proposals to significantly boost education spending and a repeal of the tax on food garnered him support from moderate members of both parties. He also supported school tuition vouchers, pushed through a mostly flat income tax and backed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2004.

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