Jon Huntsman: The Mormon the Obama campaign feared

Jon Huntsman: The Mormon the Obama campaign feared

Washington : DC : USA | Nov 26, 2012 at 4:15 AM PST
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Hillary Clinton(L) and Jon Huntsman

President Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina revealed at a Politico event that the Mormon the Obama campaign feared the most was not Mitt Romney, but the moderate Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman was rejected by Republicans, especially far right conservatives, primarily for having worked as an ambassador for the Obama White House.

The Obama campaign and White House worked hard to have Huntsman confirmed by the Senate, and needless to say, Huntsman had a formidable resume.

Huntsman served as governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009. He served in the administrations of four presidents: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W, Bush and Obama. He was the ambassador to Singapore from 1992 to 1993, a deputiy trade reprentative from 2001 to 2003 and the ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011.

As a moderate, Huntsman could have resonated with the American voter, and it would have been much harder to build a case against him.

With the Asian economy exploding, Huntsman had the prerequisite for dealing with Asian nations. Under President George H.W. Bush, Huntsman was the assistant secretary of commerce for trade development and commerce for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In June 1992, Huntsman was appointed ambassador to Singapore and was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate in August of that year.

In March 2001, Huntsman reportedly turned down an appointment as the ambassador to Indonesia, but was appointed by then-President Bush as one of two US trade representatives.

In 2004, Huntsman won the election for governor of Utah with 58 percent of the vote, and he won re-election in 2008 with 77.7 percent of the popular vote. During his tenure as governor, he had approval ratings of up to 90 percent and left office with an approval rating of 80 percent.

Obama campaign worried about a Huntsman nomination

Jim Messina said during Politico's Playbook Breakfast said that Huntsman would have been a tough opponent.

“Look, I think we were honest about our concerns about Huntsman. We looked at his profile in a general election and thought he would have been difficult,” said Messina.

"As someone who helped manage his confirmation for the Chinese Ambassador, I can tell you he’s a good guy. I thought he was a committed American who would serve our country well, and he did,” Messina said.

A missed GOP opportunity?

Huntsman certainly did not carry the baggage of a Romney, a Rick Santorum or a Newt Gingrich. He was arguably the most qualified candidate and certainly had foreign policy experience.

The GOP got itself into a quagmire of social issues from abortion to contraception and gay rights. Huntsman could never have been the poster child of social conservatives, but based on Messina's comments, this was a clearly missed opportunity.


As the GOP does its soul-searching, it has to rid itself of the brand that it is the party of the uber rich. The party realizes that it must be more inclusive, especially of minorities. As the 2012 election demonstrated, social issues are important to Americans, and the far right is out of lockstep with mainstream thinking, especially that of American youth.

The GOP is looking at a new slate of candidates, but should never discount the power of a Huntsman candidacy. In 2012 they rejected him and chose a much less qualified nominee to battle, mostly over decade-old issues. In their quest to find the most conservative candidate, they lost to Obama by default. In other words they became easy pickings.

To succeed the GOP has to evolve with American society, move to the center, and quit catering to far right conservatives.


National Post



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US President Barack Obama at a campaign office in Virginia
US President Barack Obama at a campaign office in Virginia
Karl Gotthardt is based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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