‘Street-cred’ biker mod­er­ate Hunts­man revs up for GOP race

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Though he has one of the most im­pres­sive re­sumes in the GOP pres­i­den­tial field, Jon Hunts­man Jr. is rel­a­tively un­known out­side his home state, a fact that presents both chal­lenge and op­por­tu­nity as the for­mer Utah gov­er­nor of­fi­cially launches his cam­paign.

For Mr. Hunts­man, that ap­pears to in­clude fram­ing him­self as a mod­ern-day “Marl­boro Man” of sorts, mi­nus the smokes.

In a se­ries of pre-cam­paign ads for the Har­ley-lov­ing Mor­mon, a lone cy­clist is shown cruis­ing the desert aboard a dirt bike while coun­try mu­sic plays and sub­ti­tled mes­sages dis­solve on the screen: “To­mor­row. The can­di­date for pres­i­dent who rides mo­tocross to re­lax.”

Mr. Hunts­man, who has vowed to park a Har­ley-David­son out­side the White House if elected, had to call off a sched­uled ride re­cently to an an­nual mo­tor­cy­cle rally in La­co­nia, N.H., be­cause of rain, los­ing out on a prime photo op­por­tu­nity and the chance to gain some ad­di­tional “street cred” with cy­clists.

But the real road­blocks fac­ing the Utah Repub­li­can’s White House bid are more sub­stan­tial than a sum­mer shower. He has to win over the GOP rank and file de­spite his ser­vice in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion as the am­bas­sador to China and his sup­port for “cap-and-trade,” civil unions and in-state tu­ition for il­le­gal aliens.

“This year, Repub­li­cans seem to want a re­li­able, pre­dictable con­ser­va­tive leader on a wide range of is­sues, some­one who will not shrink from chal­leng­ing a pres­i­dent they in­tensely dis­like,” said Larr y Sa­bato of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia’s Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics. “How can Obama’s am­bas­sador to China, whose record is an ide­o­log­i­cal mixed bag, do that?”

Mr. Hunts­man an­nounced his pres­i­den­tial bid June 21 in New Jer­sey, with the Statue of Lib­erty as his back­drop. From there, he was off to New Hamp­shire and South Carolina, hit­ting the ear­li­est pri­mary states, where cam­paign strate­gist John Weaver be­lieves there “is noth­ing but blue skies for us.”

He en­ters a field al­ready crowded with fa­mil­iar na­tional fig­ures jock­ey­ing to claim the man­tle of the “real” con­ser­va­tive.

Mr. Hunts­man, by con­trast, has toiled in rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity, in­clud­ing a stint as deputy trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, then six years as gov­er­nor of Utah. When Mr. Obama asked him to be his am­bas­sador in 2009, Mr. Hunts­man said yes.

While Newt Gingrich and Rep. Michele Bach­mann fight for the tea par­ty­ers, Mr. Hunts­man and his team see an al­ter­na­tive path to the White House: a cam­paign fu­eled by more mod­er­ate el­e­ments of the GOP elec­torate.

In re­cent weeks, Mr. Hunts­man has brushed aside crit­i­cism of his con­ser­va­tive bona fides, say­ing that he took the am­bas­sador­ship to China out of duty to the nation.

He has high­lighted his pro­life and pro-gun records.

He’s noted that he presided over the big­gest tax cut in Utah his­tory and sug­gested that un­less a win­ning exit strat­egy from Afghanistan can be drawn up, the coun­try must se­ri­ously weigh the cost of con­tin­u­ing the war.

But more than any­thing else, he is fo­cused his mes­sage on the econ­omy, ar­gu­ing that his ex­pe­ri­ence in the pri­vate sec­tor, the gov­er­nor’s man­sion and over­seas have equipped him with the skills needed to ad­dress the coun­try’s most press­ing is­sues: the $14.3 tril­lion na­tional debt, the 9.1 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment rate and China, which he has la­beled the most sig­nif­i­cant strate­gic chal­lenge.

“This is the coun­try that we’re hand­ing down to the next gen­er­a­tion and for the first time in his­tor y we’re fac­ing the prospect that the next gen­er­a­tion, my kids, your kids, peo­ple’s grand­kids, are go­ing to get a coun­try, the great­est nation that ever was in the his­tory of the world, that’s less good, less ca­pa­ble, less com­pet­i­tive than the one we got,” Mr. Hunts­man said. “That’s to­tally un­ac­cept­able, and there are things we can do to fix that.”

Utah Democrats, mean­while, have painted Mr. Hunts­man as a Repub­li­can flip-flop­per who has walked away from some of his stances in or­der to pan­der to GOP pri­mary vot­ers.

The state party on June 20 re­leased a video par­ody of Mr. Hunts­man’s mo­tocross ad, in­sert­ing sub­ti­tles over the orig­i­nal footage mock­ing what they see as his new po­si­tions.

“Hunts­man’s changed po­si­tions so quickly over the past few days it’s enough to give Utah vot­ers whiplash,” Wayne Hol­land, state Demo­cratic Party chair­man, told re­porters on a con­fer­ence call.

Mark Meck­ler, co-founder of the Tea Party Pa­tri­ots, said Mr. Hunts­man is cre­at­ing “zero buzz” among the grass-roots, fis­cally con­ser­va­tive move­ment that helped pro­pel Repub­li­cans to take con­trol of the U.S. House last year. “I don’t think a guy like Hunts­man has a chance of get­ting tea party sup­port,” Mr. Meck­ler said.

The crit­i­cisms un­der­score the key chal­lenge for Mr. Hunts­man: prove to Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers he’s one of them.

It’s the same chal­lenge he faced this month in New Hamp­shire, when he can­celed the mo­tor­cy­cle rally ride be­cause of rain.

“He is le­git­i­mately a mo­tor­cy­cle rider,” said Stephen Talar ico, owner of a Har­leyDavid­son deal­er­ship in Manch­ester, where Mr. Hunts­man made a cam­paign stop. “I think the gov­er­nors’ ap­proach to the mo­tor­cy­cle side of it is these are his con­stituents, in­de­pen­dent Repub­li­cans.”

But not ev­ery­one was as eas­ily con­vinced, say­ing they would have rid­den, rain or shine, to the La­co­nia rally.

“If you don’t r ide up, I wouldn’t vote for you,” Davie Li­zotte, a 51-year-old from Ep­ping, said with a grin. “If you’re a hard­core rider, throw your rain gear on and go.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

For­mer Utah Gov. Jon Hunts­man Jr., a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hopeful and a for­mer am­bas­sador to China, swings his leg over a “Deluxe Sof­tail” Har­ley dur­ing a stop at Manch­ester Har­ley-David­son in New Hamp­shire this month.

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