Huntsman Faces Uphill Battle With Utah GOP

Tuesday, 24 May 2011 01:08 PM

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Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman just wrapped up a successful campaign swing through New Hampshire, which holds the first GOP primary vote in the country. But back home, Utah Republicans seem to be backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney instead of the homegrown politico, the Deseret News reported Tuesday.

Huntsman, GOP, Utah, RomneyMeanwhile, even though Huntsman says he won’t decide officially whether he’s running until next month, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday that it’s looking more and more like he’s in the race.

Huntsman, who described his New Hampshire campaign swing as “exhilarating,” philosophized during his final living room meeting on the trip: “Do we want to run for the presidency, the pain and anguish and challenges? Your logical side of the brain says, ‘No sane person would want to do that.’ Meanwhile, your patriotic side of your brain says, you love this country. This country is at a serious inflection point . . . Do you want to be sidelined in this time of change or do you want to be in the game?”

Huntsman refined his presidential pitch throughout his New Hampshire tour, touting his conservative record as a governor and lashing out at President Barack Obama.

John Weaver, Huntsman’s chief political strategist, said the New Hampshire trip exceeded expectations. “I can’t imagine not moving forward,” Weaver said. “I would say it’s more ‘when’ than ‘if’ [Huntsman announces]. We haven’t finished our due diligence, but if this first trip is any indication of how we believe his message will be received, then we’ll be going forward real soon.”


Huntsman plans to return to Utah this week to attend his son’s high school graduation. He also hopes to meet with party leaders, the Deseret News reported.

"We just appreciate him reaching out," state Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright told the News, noting that Huntsman's staff contacted him about setting a meeting with GOP leaders.

"I think people appreciate honesty, so I think he'll be well-received," Wright said.

Some in Utah are questioning Huntsman’s decision to set up his national campaign headquarters in Florida and his recent comments about his Mormon faith as “tough to define.”

"For people who are political insiders, who are politically savvy, they understand what he's doing," said University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank. "If you're going to play the game at that level, it's quite difficult to campaign from Utah," especially if Romney has the state locked up.

He said it's natural that many Utahns wonder about the choices Huntsman is making.

"I think there are mixed reactions," Burbank said. "If you look at the hearts and minds of Utahns, they're much more with Romney," who also is a Mormon.

Huntsman also is scheduled to meet with his former lieutenant governor, Gov. Gary Herbert, who took over when he became ambassador to China. Herbert backed Romney in 2008.




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