On Jon Huntsman ‘every indication is that [he] is going to run’

Amanda Carey Contributor
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What seemed like a laughable idea just one month ago is now becoming increasingly likely and, for that matter, not so far-fetched.

When rumors started circulating that Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah and current ambassador to China, might run for the Republican nomination for president, even the White House laughed. Literally.

But after submitting his resignation on January 31, Huntsman started his own political action committee called Horizon PAC, which has an eyebrow-raising website of odd phrases like “Maybe someday could be today,” and assembled a top-notch team to run it. And now, despite speculation that he won’t run until 2016 after a fundraising letter from Horizon Chairman Scott Anderson posited a bid could come in “2012 and/or 2016,” a Republican strategist told The Daily Caller all signs point to 2012.

“Every indication is that Huntsman is going to run in 2012,” said the strategist. “[Everything] points toward him running.”

If nothing else, the team assembled at Horizon signals Huntsman is serious about a 2012 run. Many of them are former top-level staffers from John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Fred Davis, a media consultant who did McCain’s political ads in the general election, has signed on to Horizon PAC. So has Peter Spaulding, who chaired McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns in New Hampshire.

Matt David, former deputy chief of staff and communications director for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former deputy communications director for the McCain campaign, joined the Horizon team just last week. At Horizon, David will likely be communications director – a role that would likely transfer to a campaign.

Susan Wiles, a longtime Florida operative and McCain world insider, is now heading up Horizon PAC. Two other Huntsman advisers – Tim Miller and Jake Suski – come from the McCain days. Miller was McCain’s communications director in Iowa, and Suski was regional finance director for the primary campaign.

Then there’s John Weaver, who was a friend and adviser to McCain since meeting him in 1997. In other words, Weaver was to McCain what Karl Rove was to George W. Bush. Weaver’s path to Horizon PAC, however, was a rocky one.

In many ways, Weaver was the best and worst thing to happen to McCain. He’s credited with creating a candidate that eventually became the presumptive Republican nominee, while simultaneously being credited with spending the campaign into financial disarray that resulted in an internal implosion during the summer of 2007.

Even before that, Weaver worked on McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign, and was so bitter after the primary loss he left the GOP and started working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

But even with his flirtation with the Democratic Party and track record for being a senior adviser for campaigns that just can’t seem to win, the Republican strategist tells TheDC Weaver is still an asset for Huntsman.

“I’d say if Huntsman decides to run, he’s incredibly fortunate to have John Weaver,” the strategist said. “He’s an experienced pro, and especially in primaries.”

If Jon Huntsman’s “campaign-in-waiting” team seems like a “McCain campaign pre-2007 shakeup, 1.0,” it shouldn’t be surprising considering the former Utah governor is actually quite close with McCain and endorsed him early on in the primary season.

While reports have indicated Huntsman may not announce his candidacy until June, the White House isn’t laughing anymore. In a presentation to donors last week, Obama’s campaign manager for his re-election bid specifically highlighted Huntsman’s weaknesses, suggesting they’re more worried about his challenge than they previously let on.