Granite State primary voters meet former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman!
Jon Huntsman’s days as an international man of mystery are about to come to an end.
The former ambassador to China is embarking on a five-day campaign swing through New Hampshire, a trip that will put him in the center of the 2012 fray amid growing Republican alarm about the weakness of the party’s presidential field.
In some respects, Huntsman’s timing couldn’t be better: The race for the GOP nomination is as wide open as ever, with many in the Republican rank and file casting about for new options after Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour decided not to run.
But five months after floating himself as a potential presidential candidate – and several weeks after leaving his post in Beijing – Huntsman remains a political cipher. He has scarcely spoken in public, delivering a single commencement speech and giving an extended interview to just one publication. He hasn’t yet made any of the hand-shaking, back-slapping retail stops that define early-state primaries—like the gun shop and country store visits he has planned for Saturday in Hooksett.
For Huntsman, this trip is a first real crack at answering that question, and the stakes for his New Hampshire rollout are obvious. The maverick-friendly Granite State, where independents are allowed to vote in party primaries, looms large in Huntsman’s 2012 map and represents his best opportunity to duke it out with Mitt Romney. And as Huntsman tackles his wide array of vulnerabilities, he has only a limited number of chances to get his answers right.
Republican strategist Mike Dennehy, who steered John McCain’s successful campaigns in New Hampshire, underscored just how serious Huntsman’s obstacles are, from the outset: “The only thing people in New Hampshire know about Jon Huntsman is that he worked for Obama and that’s a tough starting point.”