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Posted at 1:32 PM ET, 01/31/2011

The case for Jon Huntsman

By Chris Cillizza



Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is considering a run for president. AP Photo by Charles Dharapak

Talk of a 2012 presidential candidacy by Jon Huntsman, the Obama Administration's ambassador to China, is heating up.

We reported last week that Huntsman was leaning toward a run for the Republican nod and had a group of advisers beginning the outreach effort in early states to ensure that he could hit the ground running if and when he returned from China.

Politico reported today that the White House is expecting Huntsman to resign his post this spring, an obvious precursor to a presidential bid.

Today we make the case for why Huntsman can win the Republican nomination in 2012. Tomorrow we will offer up the case against the former Utah governor.

(And, yes, we will be doing cases for/against all of the 2012 candidates -- just as we did in 2008 -- so stay tuned!)

* A Fresh Face: The 2010 Senate primaries proved that Republican voters desperately want new and different people running for office. Huntsman fits that bill. Though he spent five years as governor of the Beehive State, Huntsman is entirely unknown on the national stage, which could well be a good thing for him. He also has a resume that, once voters get to know him a bit, could be very appealing. He worked as a staff assistant in the Reagan Administration, ambassador to Singapore for President George H.W. Bush and as a deputy trade ambassador for President George W. Bush. Huntsman is also young for a presidential race -- he'll turn 51 in March -- and charismatic; those two traits will help drive the fresh face idea. Also, Huntsman rides motocross.

* Foreign Policy cred: We've written before about the dearth of foreign policy experience in the 2012 field. There just isn't much. Huntsman would immediately become the best-versed candidate on foreign affairs in the field. And, Huntsman has spent the last two years in a country that is widely seen as the biggest challenger to America's worldwide might in the coming years. (Sidebar: Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.) His China expertise allows him to stand toe to toe -- theoretically -- with President Obama on foreign policy, a task that could well be tougher for the other candidates in the running.

* Electability: If Republican voters' priority is beating President Obama in 2012 -- and that's a big "if" that we will explore in our case against Huntsman -- then the former Utah governor could well be the pick. Expect the governor and his team to regularly highlight the fact that 2008 Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said that the prospect of facing Huntsman in 2012 made him a "wee bit queasy". (That quote was, of course, prior to Obama naming Huntsman ambassador to China.) While on issues Huntsman's allies insist he is a conservative, he is tonally more of a centrist -- an approach that would likely appeal to middle-of-the-road voters looking for problem solvers rather than partisan warriors.

* C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) : Huntsman is from a very wealthy family -- his father, Jon Huntsman Sr., is a billionaire and the 937th richest man in the world, according to Forbes. Having unlimited personal resources can be a huge advantage in a presidential race as a wealthy candidate can use the time his challengers are devoting to raising money on the actual courtship of voters. (And, with the GOP field likely to stretch to 10 or more candidates, the search for cash will be even more difficult for candidates who lack the ability to self fund.) Money -- even your own -- isn't everything in politics though as former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass) made clear in 2008. Romney spent nearly $70 million of his own cash but came up short of the nomination.

* Reformer with results: Huntsman pushed hard on a broad reform agenda during his time as governor with generally positive results. Huntsman helped lower the state's sales tax on food, re-structured the work week for state employees and made changes to the state's health care system that sought to lower the number of uninsured. Voters like reformers -- see Obama, Barack or even McCain, John -- and when such large majorities of people see the federal government as fundamentally broken, Huntsman could well be in the right place at the right time to cast himself as a Mr. Fix It.

Tomorrow: The Case Against Jon Huntsman

By Chris Cillizza  | January 31, 2011; 1:32 PM ET
Categories:  Case For/Case Against  
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