Jon Huntsman officially ends his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to China Saturday, and will switch gears into what many predict to be a presidential campaign.
Although Huntsman himself has been tight-lipped about the prospect of challenging President Obama in 2012, he already has a campaign-in-waiting in the form of his political action committee, Horizon PAC. His network also includes many experienced political gurus. John Weaver, a veteran from the McCain campaign has signed on to be political director; Whit Ayres is doing media.
The effort in New Hampshire is headed by strategist Peter Spaulding. In South Carolina, it will be consultant Richard Quinn.
The only real question that remains is whether the campaign-in-waiting will become a full-fledged campaign.
Huntsman will make his post-ambassadorship debut at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in D.C. Saturday night. In the coming weeks, he will also be giving the commencement addresses at the University of South Carolina and Southern New Hampshire University — both located in key primary states.
“He has apparently started setting up a good operation here, but he is just so unknown, it’s hard to say at this point,” Chip Felkel, CEO of The Felkel Group — a media relations firm in South Carolina, told The Daily Caller. “The Obama connection won’t help, the Mormom issue and some of his moderate positions might cause some angst with the social conservatives or business types.”
“How he will do here is a big question mark, at this point anyway,” added Felkel.
As TheDC previously reported, however, a Huntsman campaign would steer clear of the more socially-conservative state of Iowa. “We haven’t ruled out playing in Iowa, but we have a huge disadvantage when it comes to the infrastructure, money, and time other candidates have spent in Iowa,” a Republican strategist aligned with the Huntsman campaign, told TheDC.
“Jon Huntsman is at once both formidable and flawed,” Republican consultant Mary Matalin told TheDC, noting that it’s still early to be opining on aspiring candidates.”He is a serious, experienced man of gravitas with access to funding, each asset being needed in good quantities to overcome elements of his own record as well as his service to the sitting President, which will not melt the hearts of Iowa caucus goers in the dead of winter.”
In a field which could include the likes of Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sen. Rick Santorum, Huntsman could be a more moderate voice in the current GOP field. While Governor of Utah, Huntsman supported the stimulus plan, and climate change policies like cap and trade. He opposes abortion, but favors same-sex civil unions.
Huntsman’s difficulties right off the bat, however, will be that he has little to no name recognition, and he served in the Obama Administration.
Conservatives could have a hard time putting their qualms over his service to President Obama aside, especially considering that recent letter obtained by TheDC revealed Huntsman heaping praise on the president.
One letter, dated August 16, 2009, shows Huntsman writing “You are a remarkable leader…it has been a great honor getting to know you.”
The letter went on to thank the president for “the graciousness and kindness you have shown me and my family — particularly your confidence in my ability to represent you in China.”
At the time, a source close to the Huntsman camp pointed a finger at a White House worried about a Huntsman candidacy. “Need further proof that the White House fears Jon Huntsman? I think not,” the source told TheDC.
“Bottom line,” added Matalin, “like every other 2012 slated or wannabe candidate, he would have to have a strategy that pops him out early somewhere [...] cherry picks through the early and middle states labyrinth, and the resources — or the infrastructure or funding — to hold up for the longer haul through Super Tuesday and beyond.”
Like his potential formidable opponent Mitt Romney, Huntsman — a millionaire — has considerable wealth. According to 2009 financial disclosure forms, his wealth is valued between $11 and 74 million.