Jon M. Huntsman Jr. has billed himself as the cool guy needed for overheated times.
In Iowa tonight, however, he will need to bring the heat.
During the past few weeks, his campaign has been rocked by missteps, staff departures and all sorts of drama. Tonight, his task is to become a relevant candidate.
To do that he will need to challenge Mitt Romney. So far, he has lobbed softballs at the frontrunner, questioning his jobs creation record as governor of Massachusetts, yet stopping short of actually saying Romney’s name.
Huntsman, like Romney, is skipping the Ames straw poll, and both see New Hampshire as key to their paths to the nomination. Yet Romney has the clear edge in money, campaign infrastructure, and a next-in-line rationale for his candidacy. Huntsman has to begin to answer this question tonight: Why back him instead of Romney?
Huntsman, who can be soft-spoken and professorial on stage, will look to highlight his conservative record as Utah governor on the economy, but he has to appear bigger and more commanding than the former governor of a small state. Expect that he will mention that he worked for Ronald Reagan, knows China and wants a smaller footprint in Afghanistan.
Ultimately his message will be: Huntsman is still here. Huntsman still matters.