Former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. ended weeks of speculation today and officially jumped into the race for president. In an uneventful speech with Lady liberty as a backdrop, Huntsman extolled the need for civility in the nomination fight and became the first contender to actually compliment President Obama, saying “I respect the president.” Mr. Huntsman will now begin a campaign blitz beginning with an immediate trip to New Hampshire followed by fundraisers and stops in South Carolina, Florida, Nevada, and Utah. These are the states where the candidate seeks to chart his path to victory.
The entry gives the Republican field two big money Mormons who hold decidedly moderate views to the left of many primary voters. Mr. Huntsman is admirably pro civil unions and has made clear that he believes that climate change is real. He could also be the only candidate in the primary to believe in Evolution. He served in the Obama administration and has shown some inclination to an individual mandate as part of healthcare reform.
So how could this man ever be nominated in the Republican primary? The strategy for victory is to first appeal to independent voters in New Hampshire who should turn out in droves since there is no Democratic primary this cycle. Independents by some counts total up to 40% of the New Hampshire electorate. Mr. Huntsman could appeal to these voters by picking up the mantle of Governor Mitch Daniels and stressing budgetary and fiscal issues. Social issues are unlikely to be an issue in this primary, and Mr. Huntsman’s support of civil unions will play well in a state that has legal gay marriage. If he can somehow capture New Hampshire, donors will flee Mitt Romney setting up a matchup in South Carolina with the winner of the Iowa Caucus.
An intriguing development of the past few weeks for Huntsman’s campaign is the rise of Michelle Bachmann. Some recent polls have her currently in 2nd place among possible nominees. Her positively critiqued debate performance coupled with Tim Pawlenty’s much maligned decision not to engage Mitt Romney will likely add to the speculation that she will win the Ames Straw Poll and perhaps the Iowa Caucuses. This would be catastrophic for Pawlenty and quickly end his chance at the nomination. Bachmann will not win New Hampshire however. With a strong record against gay marriage and opposing women’s reproductive rights, she won’t play well with an electorate known for their moderate views on social issues. Thus the entire press coverage and spotlight will be on Huntsman and Romney. Huntsman will have the opportunity he needs. We shall see if he can capitalize.