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Romney vs. Huntsman on optics: Paging Fred Davis

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Jon M. Huntsman was supposed to be the optics guy.

On Monday morning, Huntsman gave his second big speech since announcing, this time on his foreign policy doctrine, bringing to mind the oh-so-important campaign art of stagecraft in which candidate Obama exceled in 2008.

The speech came three days after Mitt Romney, the front-runner gave his own foreign policy speech in South Carolina.

Now, compare this:

To this:

Richard Ellis

GETTY IMAGES

Mitt Romney gives a foreign policy address to cadets at the Citadel on Oct. 7, 2011, in Charleston, South Carolina.

When he first launched his campaign, Huntsman hired Fred Davis, the silver-haired California director who made the absurd and sublime demon sheep ad for Carly Fiorina’s failed 2010 U.S. Senate bid.

The former Utah governor even had his own theme music, a lazy- sounding cowboy number. And actor Brian Dennehy voiced an early campaign video.

But since Huntsman’s June rollout with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop, which was botched, but ambitious, Team Huntsman’s sense of stagecraft has seemed to decline.

Davis decamped in late July for Our Destiny PAC, an independent, pro-Huntsman group, so that might explain why the candidate, who was lavished with a glossy Vogue layout in September, seems to be lacking in campaign aesthetics .

Davis declined to comment on the optics and whether he would have done things differently — legally he can’t have contact with the campaign.

At the Romney speech, the campaign featured the fitting, commander-in-chief-like backdrop of 200 uniformed cadets at a South Carolina military college that has sent more than 1,400 alumni to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The setting underscored Romney’s call for a more robust military, and the giant campaign sign announced his campaign theme.

Huntsman’s black curtain backdrop, and barely visible campaign logo, said professor-giving-lecture, which the post-speech question and answer session only underscored. The stagecraft also suggested that Team Huntsman could probably use Davis’ touch and style.

As for the substance of the speech, delivered at Southern New Hampshire University, Huntsman called for a “judicious” foreign policy, bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan, streamlining the military and investing in America. He singled out Iran, saying that he “cannot live with a nuclear armed Iran.”

“If you want an example of when I would consider the use of American force, it would be that,” Huntsman said.

He also took a swipe at Romney, who on Friday laid out his vision for a “new American century” and a muscular foreign policy. which would include reversing cuts to national missle defense and increasing naval shipbuilding. Romney is leading in an independent New Hampshire poll released on Monday that we reported on.

“Simply advocating more ships, more troops, and more weapons is not a viable path forward,” Huntsman said. “We need more agility, more intelligence, and more economic engagement with the world.”

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