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Right Turn
Posted at 03:00 PM ET, 08/02/2011

Huntsman plays defense

There is as yet no sign that Jon Huntsman has found his niche, or even traction in the GOP race. He faces a barrage of tough news stories and snipes from his opponent, which his campaign is now forcefully trying to rebut.

Politico recently looked at Huntsman’s resume:

[A New Hampshire]leaflet . . . calls Huntsman a “long time aide to President Ronald Reagan,” which seems like a bit of a stretch, given that Huntsman graduated from college in 1987, pretty far into Reagan’s second term. (He first worked under Reagan as an intern in 1981 and did press advance in 1983 and 1984.)
And there’s a notable name missing from the resume. The card notes that Huntsman was “Ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush (41)” and “U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush (43).” For Huntsman’s most recent diplomatic assignment, it just reads: “Ambassador to China (2009-2011).”

His campaign insists that the Reagan reference is warranted, pointing to his position as a staff assistant, time in the Commerce Department and work as an advance man (specifically in preparing for Reagan’s visit to China). A spokesman points to his detailed timeline on Huntsman’s Web site. Unfortunately for Huntsman, what seems to be a legitimate entry on his resume is now assumed to be exaggerated given his more recent political heresies.

Likewise, Huntsman has gotten flak for a comment made about Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) for a New York Magazine piece: “As Huntsman puts it, somewhat indelicately, ‘She makes for good copy and good photography.’” Now Huntsman is at pains to quash the notion that he is dismissing Bachmann as just another pretty face. He told the Los Angeles Times yesterday:

After a New Hampshire campaign event Monday, Huntsman, who is now trying to restart his stalled campaign, said there was “no slight intended.”
“When you say someone is photogenic — that’s a compliment. I wish somebody would say it about me — that’s an advantage in the race. She’s to be taken seriously,” Huntsman said when asked about the remark after a house party in Rochester, New Hampshire.
“I told the same reporter who wrote that, she is a very strong, legitimate candidate,” Huntsman said. He said he also told author John Heilemann that Bachmann has “been elected by her people. She’s bringing a lot of important issues to the forefront. I have great respect for that.”
“I hope in today’s political world,” Huntsman added, “people don’t parse every compliment for the negative.”

Well, this is presidential politics.

But it doesn’t stop there. In New Hampshire, a must-win state for him, WMUR took a swipe at him over a mailer:

To items are noteworthy here.
First, of course, his name is written as John, not Jon.
Second is the supposed quote from the Wall Street Journal calling Huntsman “The Conservative Problem Solver.” It is true that words like that appeared in that newspaper. It was a Journal reporter quoting Huntsman:
“When people look at what we’ve done,” he says, “they’re going to say, ‘He’s a conservative problem solver.’ I’m going to point people in the direction of what we’ve done as governor. I’m pro-life, strongly pro-Second Amendment. I think there are enough voters who will say, ‘I may not like everything, but there’s enough here to like.’ ”
“I’m a conservative problem-solver,” Gov. Huntsman said over the engine roar of his campaign charter, on which the reporters in back were outnumbered by family members filling the aisles — his wife, four of their own children (most of them grown) and two younger adopted daughters.”

His defenders argue that the quote was the title of the Wall Street Journal piece. Nevertheless, the incident points to the difficulty the Huntsman team has in finding praise for him in conservative media.

Huntsman is also taking shots for his recent appearance at a Young Republicans gathering in which he was perceived by at least some in the crowd of trying to sound a little too “cool.” The New York Times reported:

Crossing a generational divide in politics can be difficult, as former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah, a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, made clear when he referred to “the Google” in a speech to kick off the annual convention of the College Republicans National Committee over the weekend.

That, according to those clearly not sympathetic to Huntsman’s campaign, induced some snickering. For any other candidate the remark might come off as a bit awkward; for Huntsman it is fodder for his opponent to claim he is not authentic.

The challenge for Huntsman is to get off the defense and go on offense if he is ever to rebut the image that his is a consultant-created campaign. In fact, he is getting more aggressive in discussing his opponents. At a press conference in New Hampshire there was this exchange on the debt-ceiling bill:

Q: What'd you mean by lack of leadership with your opponents?
A: Well you have some who are in favor of crash and burn. I don't consider that to be a policy. We live in the real world. You've got to recognize our commitments, you've got to step up and meet our commitments. In order to do that you've got to work as a leader in Washington to bring Congress together in fashioning a package that allows us to cut and to meet our financial obligations as we raise the debt ceiling but also to focus on what Americans want more than anything else and that's real meaningful reform in the area of entitlements and a balanced budget amendment. So we're getting something but we're not getting enough. So to dodge the debate or to wait until the debate is over effectively and to take a side I don't consider that to be leadership.

On this one he may be right on the merits. But his challenge remains: Are there really Huntsman voters in significant numbers in the Republican electorate? He’ll need to find some fast and show progress in the polls if he’s going to be more than a footnote in the campaign.

By  |  03:00 PM ET, 08/02/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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