Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Who is Jon Huntsman? Another Candidate Enters the Race

To the delight of many establishment Republicans, Jon Huntsman, Jr. has finally announced that he is indeed running for president. Huntsman and Michele Bachmann are the only two candidates thus far who have jumped immediately into the race without first forming a presidential exploratory committee. The Campaign Status page has been updated once again. Unless Rick Perry tosses his hat into the ring soon, it may be a long time before the field changes again.

Polls suggest that Mitt Romney is the default choice of the establishment and moderate Republicans. But they have been seeking another candidate, one without Romney's baggage (Romneycare, flip-flops, lack of charisma). They may find Huntsman to be a suitable alternative. But Huntsman comes with baggage of his own, as he has been criticized for being too moderate/liberal on environmental issues and gay rights. Huntsman served under President Obama as the U.S. Ambassador to China, and he made public statements after the 2008 election attacking the Republican Party for being too far right. This came at the very moment the Tea Party moved the Republican Party to the right (and, in 2010, to victory).

Huntsman seems to be aware that his campaign strategy must be to destroy and replace Romney in New Hampshire. They will be engaged in a duel; only one of them may survive the New Hampshire primary. One is reminded of Winston Churchill's famous remark during the Second World War: "I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby." Hyperbole aside, that is the attitude Huntsman will need to adopt in order to win. Romney is the presumptive frontrunner, leads in all New Hampshire polls by a mile, and has plenty of money and campaign experience. Huntsman polls at nearly zero percent and is an unknown quantity to most voters.

If Huntsman is serious about becoming the Republican nominee, he must put aside his diplomatic tendencies and go fully on the offensive against Romney. Huntsman's conservative credentials may be in doubt, but he never created anything like Romneycare. It's obvious that Huntsman should relentlessly assail Romney's Achilles heel.

On the other hand, it's possible that Huntsman is not serious about winning. He may have calculated that he has little chance of defeating Romney. Then why run? There's long been speculation that Huntsman really wanted to run in 2016. If Huntsman believes in the conventional wisdom that Republicans prefer to nominate someone who has run before, then 2012 could serve as Huntsman's practice run. If this is the case, then expect Huntsman to leave his opponents (and Obama) in peace.

Elephant Watcher has added Huntsman to the roster of candidates and recalculated each candidate's odds of winning the nomination. Romney and Huntsman are to be locked in mortal combat in New Hampshire, and Romney is favored to win. Huntsman is thereby given a 2% chance of winning the nomination; Romney's chances drop by the same amount to 8%. If Huntsman is willing and able to draw blood against Romney in the debates to come, that balance of power won't be tilted so heavily in Romney's favor. In an unrelated adjustment, Michele Bachmann's odds have risen from 1% to 2% at the expense of Herman Cain.

News posts related to Huntsman will have the Huntsman "tag". For detailed assessment of Huntsman's strengths, weaknesses, and strategy, view his Profile. Elephant Watcher calculates Huntsman has a 2% chance of winning the nomination.