Jon M. Huntsman Jr. has become everybody’s shoulda-woulda-coulda candidate. As in, he should-be-doing better, would-be-doing better if the GOP were a different party, and could be the one to beat President Obama.

Former Utah governor and GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman arrives on stage prior to the start of the Republican presidential debate on national security Nov. 22, 2011. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Huntsman’s favorite-candidate status among Beltway pundits, and liberals, has led to questions about whether he would consider mounting a third party bid if he failed to win the GOP nod (which at this point, let’s face it, looks pretty likely). But every time he’s asked about a possible independent bid, Huntmsan says no.

Sort of.

Here’s a recent exchange as reported in The Boston Globe:

Asked, “Is there any situation in which you would run for president as an independent?” Huntsman said, “I don’t think so.”

Told that anything but a flat denial could perpetuate speculation about the possibility, Huntsman replied: “I’m a lifelong Republican. I’m running as a Republican, and I fully anticipate that that’s where we’re going to be.”

In the real world, this is a flat-out denial. But in politics, it’s an equivocation that leads to all sorts of parsing. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a window there, especially in the “fully anticipate” bit, because anything can happen in politics.

But aside from the speculation, the real question is whether Huntsman would make a good third-party candidate. Remember Ross Perot? He was willing to bankroll his independent presidential bid and had a certain weird charisma and a knack for soundbites delivered with a folksy Texas charm.

Huntsman’s family is independently wealthy, but the Republican hasn’t been willing to dig too deeply in his pockets to finance his Republican bid. So why would he do it for an even less likely third party try?

And the charisma part? Well, let’s just say Huntsman hasn’t exactly won the hearts and minds of the outside-the-Beltway crowd, so why would his charm offensive be more convincing as a bona-fide outsider?

Meanwhile, Huntsman might not make the debate stage in Iowa next month for two debates, according to the Des Moines Register. That’s because, according to Matt Strawn, the Iowa GOP chairman, all of the candidates except Huntsman meet the criteia ( 5 percent showing in national poll or the Iowa poll between Oct. 1 and Dec. 5). Ouch.

Despite the fact that the caucuses are happening Jan. 3 and are the first real test of strength for the GOP field, Huntsman has no plans to campaign in Iowa because he has bet all his chips on New Hampshire.

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