Huntsman, the former Utah governor and China envoy, is testing whether Americans want a different kind of politician — someone who doesn’t yell but is a global thinker who can solve the country’s difficult problems. And he thinks he’s that someone.
“I think we’ll be defined by our style, which is natural, it’s truth-telling, it’s authentic, it’s who we are,” Huntsman said in an interview Saturday during a visit to New Hampshire, referring as he often does to himself as “we.” “Most people get caught up in the drama and . . . they miss the most important part for the voting public, and that’s just to give us a sense of what you believe and where you’re going to take this state and this country.”
On the stump, Huntsman says the nation is in “a deep funk — we’re depressed, we’re dispirited, we’re dejected. There’s no road map, there’s no game plan, there’s no one saying, ‘Get on the train, we’re moving.’ ”
But a key question for Huntsman is where exactly is his train moving.
No natural base
Huntsman has no natural base constituency. He’s moderate on social issues, conservative on fiscal issues, and, to some Republicans, he’s a downright traitor for having served as Obama’s ambassador to China and writing what critics call “love letters” to the president.
“I don’t think anyone can identify the existence of Jon Huntsman in this campaign,” said Michael Dennehy, a New Hampshire GOP strategist who is unaligned. “What is his niche? What is his strength and appeal to certain segments of voters?”
In the 2012 sweepstakes, Huntsman is the mystery man. He stepped off a plane from Beijing six weeks ago and into the control of a cadre of Republicans, most of whom had been assembling a Huntsman campaign without ever having met Huntsman. At first, Huntsman was said by one adviser to have been “shocked and somewhat reluctant.” Now, after visits to 12 states and “probably a thousand conversations,” Huntsman says he is ready.
“We’re basically approaching the finish line,” Huntsman said in the interview. “We’ve checked all of those boxes, and we’ll probably sit down one more time as a family this week and we’ll be off and running from there.”
Getting his wife, Mary Kaye, and their seven children on board won’t be hard. Three of the Huntsman daughters hopscotched New Hampshire this weekend with their parents, testing out Harley-Davidsons and chitchatting with strangers about their braces and choice of lipstick.
Huntsman is planning an announcement within 10 days, and aides said he would soon after deliver foreign and economic policy speeches. Last week he secured financial commitments from big names in Republican donor circles, including former ambassador David F. Girard-diCarlo.