Hours after formally announcing his presidential bid, former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R) won an endorsement from an unexpected source: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
At his weekly Capitol news conference, Reid was asked whether he thought the United States was ready for a Mormon president. Huntsman and his fellow rival for the 2012 GOP presidential nod, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, are both Mormon, as is Reid. A Gallup poll released Monday showed that 22 percent of Americans would not vote for a Mormon for president.
“I feel very comfortable that they’re not ready for – certainly they’re not ready for the former governor of Massachusetts,” Reid said. “Which says, in that race, if I had a choice, I’d favor Huntsman over Romney.”
Reid went on to criticize Romney at length for what Reid described as the two-time presidential contender’s flip-flops on several major issues between his years as governor and his emergence on the national stage.
“The frontrunner in the Republican stakes now, here’s a man who doesn’t know who he is,” Reid said. “He was for gay marriage when he was governor; now he’s against it. He was for abortion when he was governor; now he’s against it. Oh, health care. We modeled our bill to a large degree about what he did in Massachusetts. Now, he’s trying to run from it. Someone who doesn’t know who they are shouldn’t be president of the United States.”
Politically speaking, it would make more sense for Reid to criticize Romney, who polls indicate is the frontrunner of the GOP presidential field, as opposed to Huntsman – who has yet to build up his name ID and thus far has barely registered in national polls.
The question further down the line, of course, will be whether Reid will stick by his praise for Huntsman if the former ambassador and Utah governor manages to make headway with voters in the early primary states.
Also worth noting: Reid’s response Tuesday echoed his answer in 2007 when he was asked whether he might have any advice for Romney as the Massachusetts Republican was preparing to deliver a speech in College Station, Tex., about his Mormon faith.
“Well,” Reid said at the time, according to the New York Times, “I believe Mitt Romney, who’s a man I’ve never met — don’t particularly want to — a man I’ve never met, that I would hope that his running for president would be determined on his politics and not his religion.”
For his part, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Tuesday declined to weigh in when asked about how Huntsman compares to the rest of the GOP field.
“I think there’s a clear distinction between the Republicans in the race and this president and his party, and that is, just as we in the House have said we’ve got to have a plan to resolve this fiscal situation, we’ve got to have a plan to grow this economy, and I think Mr. Huntsman will be one of those candidates just like the rest in our field that are very serious about tackling these tough issues,” Cantor said at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing.