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Huntsman gets a second dose of bad news from home state

at 03:19 PM ET, 07/08/2011

For the second time in less than a week, a former aide to ex-Utah governor Jon Huntsman who is now in Congress has distanced himself from the GOP 2012 presidential candidate.

Just days after Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Huntsman’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, endorsed Mitt Romney over Huntsman, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) suggested Friday that he might not be backing his former boss either.

Lee, who served as Huntsman’s chief counsel, called Huntsman an “unknown quantity” in an interview with Talking Points Memo.

“He’s such a new entry that a lot of people, including me, have not yet had an opportunity to review his platform,” Lee said. “He’s something of an unknown quantity as a presidential candidate.”

Lee, meanwhile, had plenty of nice things to say about Romney.

That Romney, a Mormon and former head of the Salt Lake City Olympics, would have supporters in Utah is not unusual, but the fact that two men who worked closely with Huntsman are shunning his presidential campaign is not a helpful storyline for Obama’s former China envoy, who jumped into the presidential race in June.

It also reinforces two narratives about Huntsman: that he is a candidate without a message, and that he is basically a repackaged — and slightly less attractive — version of Romney.

The knock on Huntsman is that he has money and staff, but little in the way of a platform or constituency. So far, he has languished in the polls and has a lot of work to do getting out his name.

In fairness, he just launched his presidential campaign a few weeks ago, but Huntsman hasn’t had an easy time of it so far, and the fact that even his former aides are moving toward Romney is not a good sign.

Huntsman’s campaign declined to comment on Lee’s move. After the Chaffetz announcement, Huntsman’s team announced some supporters in Massachusetts, where Romney served as governor.

In addition to Chaffetz, Romney announced several other Utah endorsements earlier this week, including Lee’s Senate colleague, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

An endorsement from Lee would be particularly valuable for Romney, given Lee’s street cred with the tea party and Romney’s more moderate past.

For now, Lee is keeping his powder dry and staying neutral. But in such a heavily-Mormon state, the senator will almost undoubtedly back one of the two Mormons in the presidential field. And right now, he doesn’t seem inclined to back Huntsman.

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