Hunts­man to Repub­li­cans: Judge my record, not my re­li­gion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HAL­LOW

Some pun­dits and Repub­li­can naysay­ers con­tend that for­mer Utah Gov. Jon Hunts­man Jr. is too mod­er­ate to win the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

And that’s a claim he de­nies with vigor and a hint of anger.

Dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times, Mr. Hunts­man checked off his ac­com­plish­ments as Utah gov­er­nor from 2005 to 2009: mak­ing record tax cuts, sign­ing into law the first school voucher pro­gram and over­see­ing the rise of his state’s econ­omy to first-in-then­ation sta­tus.

He is con­fi­dent that the race won’t turn on his re­li­gion and down­plays whispers from evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants who vow not to sup­port a Mor­mon.

“These pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion con­tests aren’t about re­li­gion; they’re about lead­er­ship,” Mr. Hunts­man told The Times in the kitchen of his home in Wash­ing­ton’s tony Kalo­rama neigh­bor­hood.

Mr. Hunts­man, 51, is proud of his lead­er­ship, which he pre­dicts con­ser­va­tives will re­spect de­spite his ten­ure as Pres­i­dent Obama’s am­bas­sador to China and his pos­i­tive com­ments about what Repub­li­can vot­ers see as an overly lib­eral pres­i­dent.

“All peo­ple have to do is look at the record. Some­times they don’t, and they just rely on tags,” he said.

“When you look at what we did on record tax cuts, be­ing pro­life and pro-Sec­ond Amend­ment, pass­ing the largest tax cuts in the his­tory of our state. We went to the No. 1 po­si­tion eco­nom­i­cally,” he said. “Ed­u­ca­tion re­form, the first gov­er­nor to sign a voucher pro­gram, we did it around spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion.”

He noted that the Pew Re­search Cen­ter named Utah the “best man­aged state in Amer­ica.”

Mr. Hunts­man said he won’t stand a chance if vot­ers al­low the 2012 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion to re­volve around re­li­gion.

“If it’s about re­li­gion, I’ll al­ways come up short any­way,” said Mr. Hunts­man, a Mor­mon who un­til April 30 was Mr. Obama’s hand-picked am­bas­sador to China.

Mr. Hunts­man steers con­ver­sa­tion away from one of his ob­vi­ous ad­van­tages. If elected, he would be the only U.S. pres­i­dent with an in­ti­mate, first­hand knowl­edge of the cul­ture, lan­guage and econ­omy of China, the one coun­try ca­pa­ble of even­tu­ally chal­leng­ing U.S. eco­nomic and mil­i­tary supremacy.

He speaks flu­ent Man­darin and has spent much of his adult life on the com­mu­nist main­land and in non-com­mu­nist Tai­wan, mak­ing a Pres­i­dent Hunts­man less likely to miss cul­tural nu­ances dur­ing crit­i­cal trade and se­cu­rity talks.

But he and chief cam­paign strate­gist John Weaver know that few vot­ers choose the nation’s chief ex­ec­u­tive on the ba­sis of China planks, or for­eign pol­icy gen­er­ally. In­stead, he said, he will run on what for­mer gov­er­nors nor­mally do, his record as a man­ager of a state, at a time when the nation is in dire need of suc­cess­ful man­age­ment.

Mr. Hunts­man de­clined to re­veal his money-rais­ing tar­get for the end of this year, though he did say, “If the money comes in, it will be be­cause we have a mes- sage of lead­er­ship peo­ple want. If we don’t raise the money, then we’re not on a win­ning tra­jec­tory.”

Al­though that seems to sug­gest that he will drop out of the con­test some­time this year un­less the donors start com­ing through for him, he in­sists that won’t hap­pen: “We’re not go­ing to drop.”

When asked again what he fig­ures he will need to have raised by De­cem­ber to stay in the race, he laughed softly and said, “A lot. It’s go­ing to go all the way to Florida, where I think the nom­i­nee is go­ing to be de­cided.”

He rec­og­nizes Florida as a fi­nan­cially drain­ing place to cam­paign, with sev­eral ma­jor TV mar­kets and com­fort­ably more peo­ple than the first four states in the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s ap­proved pri­mary/cau­cus calendar com­bined: Iowa, New Hamp­shire, Ne­vada and South Carolina.

“That’s a big, ex­pen­sive me­dia mar­ket, yet I think that’s where the nom­i­na­tion is go­ing to be won,” Mr. Hunts­man said.

Still, the for­mer Utah gov­er­nor said he will vig­or­ously con­test New Hamp­shire, where for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney is a clear front-run­ner. The four lat­est polls at Real Clear Pol­i­tics give Mr. Rom­ney an av­er­age 21.7 per­cent­age point lead.

Mr. Hunts­man and Mr. Rom­ney are the wealth­i­est con­test- ants for the nom­i­na­tion, but Mr. Rom­ney, cam­paign­ing for far longer, has far out­raised Mr. Hunts­man. Whether Mr. Hunts­man is will­ing and able to match or ex­ceed the tele­vi­sion ad spend­ing of the top can­di­dates go­ing into Florida, he won’t say.

Mr. Rom­ney raised $18.25 mil­lion from April through June. Mr. Hunts­man raised $4.1 mil­lion in his first 10 days of his can­di­dacy, “about a third of it in seed money” from his own pocket, he said.

Mr. Hunts­man be­trayed no concern that he is in a tie with for­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum of Penn­syl­va­nia, at 2 per­cent each, for last place among 10 de­clared and prospec­tive nom­i­na­tion can­di­dates in Real Clear Pol­i­tics’ av­er­age of re­cent polls.

Still, Mr. Hunts­man faces an up­hill cam­paign be­cause he served a lib­eral Demo­cratic pres­i­dent and be­cause many evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants, who play a sig­nif­i­cant role in Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial con­tests, say they won’t vote for a Mor­mon.

Also, Mr. Rom­ney, a bet­ter­known wealthy Mor­mon who also has been around the nom­i­na­tion track once be­fore, is run­ning and has had a large, mul­ti­state, ex­pe­ri­enced or­ga­ni­za­tion in place for a long time.

Again, Mr. Hunts­man’s an­swer is: “Be­cause it’s not go­ing to be about re­li­gion, but about lead­er­ship.”

BAR­BARA L. SAL­IS­BURY/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jon Hunts­man Jr., seen here at his home in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., takes is­sue with crit­ics on the GOP right who say he’s too mod­er­ate.

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