After a much-hyped launch, Huntsman has been running at about 1 percent in the national polls for months, leaving his advisers to try to ward off the impression that he is hopelessly mired in the second tier. Much of his campaign has gone awry early. His highly anticipated June announcement, set against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, was best remembered for the campaign’s misspelling of his first name on media passes. His first debate performance, panned by media critics and Republican observers, temporarily cast him as a bland, forgettable presence. “We know we are moving,” Huntsman insists.
Of late, he is trying his best to look tougher. Already far behind, he will not adopt the style of an old political friend, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, an early casualty of the race who made the mistake of waiting too long before aggressively engaging his rivals. In recent days, Huntsman has gone on a multi-front TV and Twitter attack against Rick Perry, castigating the Texas governor for using the word “treasonous” to describe potential monetary moves by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, as well as for publicly expressing doubts about man-made climate change and evolution.
He next mocked Michele Bachmann for her promise to bring gas prices below $2 a gallon, arguing that her claim wasn’t credible. It was part of an aggressive effort to position himself as the race’s center-right Republican. But, like a light switch being flipped, his behavior over the next 24 hours suggested that being on the offensive doesn’t come entirely natural to him. On Monday, back to sounding genial and inclusive, he told CNN that he would be willing to serve as Bachmann’s running mate if she won the nomination.
To many of Huntsman’s Republican spectators on the campaign trail, his time as President Obama’s ambassador to China and the other less-conservative episodes in his career actually count for next to nothing, in part because they know so little about him.
“My attitude is, so what if he was Obama’s guy over there; that was in his past, he got out of there. But I’m looking for a guy who’s a good conservative right now . . . ,” said 47-year-old Christopher Dawe, who stood in a friend’s back yard at a house party for the presidential hopeful, in the bucolic town of New Hampton.
He had heard a capsule biography of Huntsman about four hours earlier from friends. “I didn’t even know who this guy was before today,” Dawe said. “My wife and I got asked if we wanted to see this Huntsman guy. I didn’t want to say, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” He shrugged, laughed. “So, okay, sure, why not?”