Potential presidential contender Jon Huntsman, known as a Harley Davidson enthusiast in his home state of Utah, may soon hit the road as an official candidate for the Republican Party, but he’ll need more than a shiny motorcycle helmet and a leather jacket to electrify voters in South Carolina.
The 51-year-old who fluently speaks Mandarin Chinese is viewed as a moderate Republican and may join Mitt Romney as the second Mormon in the race. Upon leaving his job as a two-term governor of Utah in 2009, Huntsman’s approval rating was actually still over 80 percent and many, including President Barack Obama, considered him to be a strong prospective candidate for the 2012 election.
Although he has an impressive background, Huntsman may be out of the running even before he officially throws his hat in the ring. Huntsman actually left his governor's post early in his second term and agreed to become Obama's next ambassador to China. This move could be considered a deadly blow, particularly in the Palmetto State. Although it was widely viewed as a political move by Obama to sideline a potential threat to his re-election campaign, it also will likely make Huntsman’s campaign effort more difficult when it comes time to answer his more conservative critics and his fellow presidential contenders.
So if he was considered so threatening to Obama’s hopes of a second term, then why is Huntsman still such a small blip on the radar in the Palmetto State?
The most obvious reason for his unfamiliarity is that the other top potential candidates have all been on the national stage before. Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney all garnered attention during the 2008 presidential election, while Michelle Bachmann gained popularity during the rise of the Tea Party and Newt Gingrich has been around probably longer than the rest of the candidates combined.
Huntsman, though, still has a shot at winning the Republican nomination despite his potential drawbacks and lack of name recognition. He may just have to circumvent South Carolina in order to win it all.
It would be a record-breaking event for Huntsman to win the overall nomination and not win the S.C. primary. Every winner of the Palmetto State’s primary has gone on to win the party’s nomination for the past 30 years. He has, however, already made somewhat of a splash in South Carolina. In May, he gave a commencement speech at the University of South Carolina. He has also hired crafty political consultants Richard Quinn, who helped run Sen. John McCain’s second-place S.C. presidential campaign in 2000 and first-place S.C. presidential campaign in 2008 and Mike Campbell, Gov. Carroll Campbell’s son who chaired Mike Huckabee’s S.C. presidential campaign in 2008. Huntsman’s campaign headquarters will even be in the South as he will reportedly set up shop in Orlando, Fla., should he decide to officially run.
Huntsman has also already enhanced his familiarity in the first primary state of New Hampshire by scheduling several campaign stops there during the past couple of weeks. S.C. voters, however, are a different breed when compared to New Hampshire voters. Republicans in the Palmetto State are more conservative and typically put more stock in social issues than GOP voters in the Granite State.
Huntsman has also pulled out of the Iowa caucuses, undoubtedly understanding that his relatively centrist campaign message and previous work for Obama will put him at a major disadvantage in the Hawkeye State.
The campaign season, however, still has a long way to go and the Republican field is still considered fairly open. Opinions change as voters learn more about the candidates. For instance, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was the definitive front-runner for the Republican Party back in the 2008 election, while few believed Sen. McCain could even win the S.C. primary much less the GOP nomination. He wound up accomplishing both. While a variety of factors will go into Huntsman’s level of success during the campaign, he’ll likely have to hit a giant springboard in order to make a sizable impact in the Palmetto State.