On Monday night, seven Republican candidates for president gathered in New Hampshire for a CNN-sponsored debate. The seven in attendance were: former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN6), former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Texas Congressman Ron Paul (R-14), and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Herman Cain. Those seven have emerged as the current field in addition to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer.
Moreover, Republican storylines have involved a list of those who are not formally running, which includes names like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, South Dakota U.S. Senator John Thune, and Indiana Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN3). As the calendar has turned to June, the pressure is certainly on for those not in the race to figure out if they are in or out. Popular Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Perry of Texas have seemed to point towards not running, but based on party excitement with the current field; one or both of them could be dragged into the race. Then, there is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who would have to fight against the stigma of being the brother of President George W. Bush, who is not only disliked by several Democrats, but is still viewed critically by some Republicans and many Independents for his policy decisions.
There is one other prominent name that has been rumored to exploring a run and now it seems to be official. Former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is expected to come to the Garden State next Tuesday to formally announce his intentions to run for the Republican nomination for president. Huntsman brings a moderate appeal and conservative principles that helped him get elected in one of the country’s most conservative states. Conversely, he will have to battle accusations and false connotations that come from serving the Obama Administration. It could be a hard sell to some Republican voters that one can go from serving Obama to running against him. There is a sector in the Republican base that will almost put the betterment of the country above making Obama a one-term president and certainly will view someone like Huntsman harshly.
The former governor and ambassador will be holding the formal announcement ceremony at Liberty State Park in Jersey City with the New York City skyline and Statue of Liberty within eyesight. What also might be within eyesight could be Governor Christie. If he happens to show up in any capacity, his own presidential speculation will certainly circle him at some point. Furthermore, a Christie appearance could spark media there to question where Christie stands in terms of whom he will throw his support behind and some might point to Huntsman simply because the two are at the same place. Like many Republican governors, though, Christie would be wise to wait a little longer to see how polls show the candidates running and how voters feel about the field. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) won the state’s Republican primary in 2008 with Romney finishing second.
Sometimes, there might not be anything extraordinary about a governor appearing at a major speech or event in the state he governs. Bill Palatucci, a close political advisor for Christie, stated that Christie was supposed to meet Huntsman for a dinner event last month, but scheduling conflicts prevented the two from gathering. Huntsman would have been the latest top Republican after Romney, Pawlenty, and Barbour to eat and greet with Christie. That list of those spending dinner time with Christie also involves a group of Republican donors from Iowa, who are looking to entice Christie into the race.
The location might be perplexing for several outside Huntsman’s circle as New Jersey will be a tough pickup in 2012 and Hudson County might be the most Democratic region of the Garden State.
However, Huntsman’s choice of location might seem familiar to some Republican voters as President Ronald Reagan used Liberty State Park in 1979 to announce his 1980 presidential candidacy. Huntsman is a former staff assistant during Reagan’s presidency and might be viewed as a similar type of politician, which could endear him to some voters who still revere the 40th U.S. President highly. He has not gone out of his way to publicly criticize President Obama unlike many Republican candidates and tries to make political conversation more about the issues than empty diatribe. Unlike the rest of the field that was in New Hampshire Monday, his time abroad gives him foreign policy credentials that the others might lack in the minds of voters. Like Romney, Huntsman is a Mormon and will find it difficult to get evangelical voters in states like Iowa to put aside faith for policy substance. Not only will Huntsman need to erode the general support for Romney by Republican voters, but also his support amongst Mormon voters.
The timing might be a bit perplexing with the debate Monday in New Hampshire in the rearview mirror, where he could have introduced himself better to key voters there in the first primary state. Nonetheless, Huntsman has been viewed as a serious potential candidate for months and his stances have been seen as the necessary mix to draw voters from most ideologies. If he is able to avoid any hurdles that could present themselves when it comes to arch conservative and grassroot voters, he can be someone likely to win multiple primaries if not finish near the top.
Since stepping down as Ambassador to China, not many have heard publicly from Huntsman, but based on the fact that he is coming to New Jersey to formally announce his candidacy shows that he was privately analyzing his candidacy and getting all the necessary paperwork in order. Additionally, since returning from China, Huntsman has traveled to key primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
After next Tuesday, Huntsman will join the rest of the field barnstorming the country to key primary and battleground states. He has already begun the process of establishing campaign headquarters in northern Florida. The location is twofold: it is an important state in primaries and general elections and it happens to be the state hosting the Republican National Convention next summer. Huntsman must now hit the ground running as he will need to raise his name recognition and reach out to voters in those early states like New Hampshire.