Tuesday sees Jon Huntsman’s first day as an official presidential candidate vying for the Republican nomination in 2012, but already, Democrats are on the offense against the former Utah governor and Obama-tapped ambassador to China.
On Sunday, David Axelrod, strategist for Obama’s reelection campaign, said on CNN that he’s surprised Huntsman has jumped in the race.
“It was a little surprising to me because when we were in Shanghai, we got a chance to talk and he was very effusive about what the president was doing,” said Axelrod. “He [Huntsman] was a little quizzical about what was going on in his own party.”
Tim Miller, spokesperson for Huntsman, called Axelrod’s comments “absurd” and “imaginary history,” telling TheDC that “Gov. Huntsman’s record on health care and the economy in Utah were the opposite of President Obama’s top-heavy, government-centric, failed approach.”
But on Monday, Wayne Holland, chair of the Utah Democratic Party, held a conference call in which he said the he was “disappointed” in Huntsman’s flip from moderate Republican to “pandering” conservative.
“Utahans have long appreciated and supported mainstream moderate leaders regardless of party affiliation, who make tough choices and speak their minds,” said Holland. “For many years, Jon Huntsman was a leader like that; one that many of us can respect. But the Jon Huntsman announcing his candidacy tomorrow isn’t the Jon Huntsman Utahans have known.” (Utah Democrats mock Huntsman’s unconventional ads)
“He’ll launch political reinvention tour like we have never seen in our state,” said Holland, adding that “Huntsman’s changed positions so quickly the last few days it’s enough to give Utah voters whiplash.”
Specifically, he said the “Jon Huntsman I know” supported cap and trade, President Obama and the Recovery Act, and a individual mandate for health insurance.
Miller, however, called Holland’s accusations “distortions” that “don’t pass the smell test.”
“Governor Huntsman led Utah as a strict economic conservative, cutting taxes, balancing budgets and passing free market health care reforms without a mandate,” Miller told TheDC. “That is the record he will run on.”
Once Huntsman’s campaign is in full gear, he’ll be the only candidate in the field with with direct foreign policy experience, in a field of governors, legislators and businessmen. His campaign team is made up of experienced campaign veterans and will be headquartered in Orlando, Fla.
Little known outside of political circles, Huntsman made a surprisingly strong showing in the Republican Leadership Conference straw poll over the weekend, coming in second behind Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. On Tuesday morning, Huntsman makes his candidacy official with a speech in front of the Statue of Liberty.