Jon Huntsman, the candidate President Barack Obama fears the most as his opponent in next year’s election, confirmed officially today that he is seeking the Republican nomination.
His entry to the race this morning makes him the ninth declared GOP candidate, with at least four more still deciding whether to declare.
Evoking images of Ronald Reagan, the former Utah governor made his announcement in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, saying that his time as ambassador to China gives him a foreign policy experience that all his rivals in the crowded field lack.
|Jon Huntsman declaring his candidacy: “We will not be the first American generation that lets down the next generation." (Getty Images Photo)
“The view of America from 10,000 miles away is a picture of liberty, opportunity and justice; people secure in their rights and in love with their freedom, who’ve done more good for more people than any other nation in history,” he said.
Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, has already said that Huntsman would be the strongest of all the prospective rivals. He is the only one who makes the president’s team “shake in their boots,” Plouffe told US News & World Report.
But before the 51-year-old Huntsman gets a chance to take on Obama, he has to win the GOP nomination — and most political pundits believe that is a tough proposition.
“He may rise to the top somehow, but I just don’t see the path right now,” independent pollster Matt Towery tells Newsmax.
But Towery said it takes only one “Mike Huckabee moment” to change the whole race, referring to the former Arkansas governor’s 2007 comment that Jesus was too smart to seek public office, which leapfrogged him to the top of the Republican field.
“I’ve learned never to dismiss anyone — after all I wrote a column saying Barack Obama had no chance against Hillary Clinton — but I just don’t get it with Jon Huntsman,” Towery said. “Why him? Why now? Why this very obvious imitation of Ronald Reagan?”
Huntsman made a name for himself as a moderate in solidly conservative Utah. He increased the size of his vote from 57 percent to nearly 78 percent when he ran for a second term as governor. But he quit just seven months into that term when Obama named him ambassador to China.
Democratic consultant Alex Slater said some of his decisions as governor, such as supporting climate change legislation and backing civil unions for gay couples, will come back to haunt him in the primaries.
"It makes him an incredibly weak candidate in the GOP field," Slater said. But if he can win through, he would be "the only candidate the White House fears" in a general election.
Complicating Huntsman’s fight is the position of GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, a fellow Mormon who also is more liberal than the rest of the field. Both will be trying to tap the same financial sources to fund their campaigns.
And a Gallup poll released on Monday showed that 18 percent of Republicans — and an even higher number of Democrats — would not vote for any Mormon candidate.
He also has name recognition problems. A Field Poll among registered Republicans in California this week showed 67 percent had no opinion about him, a higher figure than any of 12 potential GOP candidates except former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.
Huntsman, a high school dropout who likes to wear denim, seems to be making a conscious effort to portray himself as no-nonsense Westerner in a similar vein to Reagan, even choosing the same place to make the speech announcing his candidacy.
He was introduced with a video showing him riding his motocross bike through the Utah desert and calling him “the ultimate conservative” and “no mainstream politician.”
In his speech, Huntsman said: “For the first time in history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is totally unacceptable and it is totally un-American. It need not, must not, will not be our permanent condition. We will not be the first American generation that lets down the next generation.”
America has to reevaluate is military campaigns overseas, he said. “It’s not that we wish to disengage with the world — don’t get me wrong — but rather that we believe that the better long-term national security strategy is rebuilding our core here at home.”
He also promised not to drag his opponents through the dirt. “I respect my fellow Republican candidates and I respect the president. He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the country we both love.
“But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who’s the better American.”
Reagan launched his 1980 campaign at the same spot in New Jersey’s Liberty State Park “in an earlier time of trouble and worry,” he said, adding, “He assured us we could ‘make America great again,’ and under his leadership we did. I stand in his shadow as well as the shadow of this magnificent monument to our liberty.”
But pollster Towery said the Reaganesque imagery seems “a bit too contrived.”
“When I see this guy, he doesn’t evoke any part of Reagan,” Towery said. “He doesn’t seem genuine. He just looks like he wants to be a cowboy.”
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