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The Rising: Jon Huntsman Jr.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman could be rivals for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination

In politics, there is nothing as appealing as the Next Big Thing.

The Next Big Thing is that politician who -- for reasons both tangible and intangible -- is seen as a player on the national stage, someone we all will hear from in the not-too-distant future.

The Rising

Four years ago, Barack Obama had that aura. Today he is in the midst of preparing to become the 44th president of the United States.

Not every rising star fulfills his or her potential in quite the way Obama has but many of them wind up influencing the debate even if they come up short -- former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards jumps to mind in that realm.

With that in mind, The Fix is launching a new regular feature that we are calling The Rising (with obvious apologies to the Boss). In The Rising, we aim to provide the need-to-know information about the next set of party leaders, presidential candidates and others elected officials who will help shape the political landscape in the next four years or so.

We kick off our newest feature in Utah -- where else? -- with a look at Beehive State Gov. Jon Huntsman.

On paper, Huntsman doesn't seem like anyone worth keeping an eye on. The son of a billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Huntsman served in several positions within the Administrations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush before running successfully for governor in ruby-red Utah in 2004 and cruising to reelection last month with 70 percent of the vote.

But, dig only slightly deeper and Huntsman's appeal begins to become apparent. He is an expert on China and speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently. He is far more progressive on the environment than many within his party. He has built a record of economic recovery and growth during his first four years in office at which even Democrats marvel. And, most importantly (and interestingly), he sees himself as a force for bipartisanship in Utah.

"People work with people," said Huntsman during an interview last month with The Fix. "Most Americans are fed up with the idea that partisanship has stood in the way of progress."

As evidence of his across-the-aisle style, Huntsman points out that he appointed Scott Matheson, the Democrat who ran against him in 2004, to head up an independent commission investigating the Crandall Canyon Mine collapse in 2007.

Huntsman is openly critical of the recent Republican leadership, including the campaign run by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who he endorsed early in the primary season. (Huntsman's father was an active supporter of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.)

Of the 2008 McCain campaign, Huntsman said: "The big ideas didn't come forward." He added that "people have to have to something they can vote on, they can digest" and McCain never gave them that information.

Huntsman is even more critical of the Bush Administration which, he suggests, chose narrow partisanship rather than "preeminence" around a few big ideas -- a decision that cost the party control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

"Right now we are devoid of ideas," said Huntsman. "We don't have the big thing, we don't have the organizing principle."

Asked about the war on terrorism, around which Bush has built his presidency, Huntsman said that while it should be part of our overall national security, it can't be an organizing's not big enough."

The Administration's singular focus on the war in Iraq, he added, has "completely neglected" other parts of the world -- notably China and India. "Iraq has taken all of the oxygen out of the room," Huntsman said.

For all of the change messaging and outsider appeal, Huntsman still has a number of major obstacles to overcome between now and 2012. (He says he has made no decisions about his future but certainly has the look and feel of a future presidential candidate.)

First and foremost is his Mormon faith, which, as we saw with Romney earlier this year, is a major stumbling block for Republican caucus and primary voters. While most voters were loath to say that a candidate's gender or race made them less likely to support him or her, there was no such hesitation to voicing opposition to a Mormon candidate.

What the 2008 Republican primary proved is that there remains a bloc of base Republican voters -- how large a bloc is up for debate -- that believes Mormonism to be a cult and simply will not support any candidate who adheres to its tenets.

Huntsman's second problem is Romney. By all indications, Romney is planning to run again in 2012 and would start the race better known and better financed than Huntsman. A Romney candidacy would also force Huntsman to answer questions about whether the Republican field was big enough for two Mormons -- especially given the trepidation cited above toward Mormons from some GOP voters. (An interesting side story: There is a definite rivalry between Huntsman and Romney that will be fascinating to watch play out over the coming few years.)

The third major issue facing Huntsman is his lack of a political team. He said he cut his own ads for his gubernatorial campaigns and isn't particularly close to any national consultants. Mock D.C.-based consultants if you like but it pays to have people around you who have done it before and know what it takes.

All in all, Huntsman is far more than meets the eye. He's well worth watching over the next few years as he positions himself for a place on the national stage in 2012.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 9, 2008; 6:07 AM ET
Categories:  The Rising  
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Next: Blagojevich Arrest Muddies Illinois Political Waters


Huntsmans Father receives Medal of Honor in fight against cancer.
The American Cancer Society is presenting its highest award, the Medal of Honor, to four Americans who have contributed to the fight against cancer, including Utah philanthropist and businessman Jon M. Huntsman.
He was honored in the category of philanthropy. The other honorees include Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., for cancer control; Mina J. Bissell, distinguished scientist at the Life Sciences Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and on the faculty of University of California Berkeley, for basic research; and Susan Band Horowitz, distinguished professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, for clinical research.

Huntsman, founder and chairman of Huntsman Corporation, a global manufacturer and marketer of differentiated chemicals, was honored for cancer philanthropy. He and his wife, Karen, have raised or personally contributed more than $600 million to the fight against cancer. They donated more than $100 million to establish the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. In 2000, the Huntsmans and their children pledged another $125 million to fund ongoing cancer research and to build a cancer research hospital. Recently, they announced they will raise or donate another $125 million toward completion of an expansion project that will double the size of the Huntsman Cancer Hospital.

My Prediction... Jon Huntsman Cancer Research is going to make Major Cancer Research Breakthroughs in the Next 10 Years... Huntsman is going to be a hero and then he will be elected as President Of the US.

Suan A.

Posted by: skespe | December 11, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Although it is difficult to forsee the future of any Republican, Huntsman and Romney cannot be counted out. Both are polished, highly educated, successful, organized, well financed, and bi-lingual (Romney speaks French).

Religion may be baggage to some, but fiscal conservatism carries a bigger stick whenever economics are concerned in a shaken society.

Posted by: bturner540 | December 10, 2008 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Huntsman is the poor man's Mitt Romney, which is why he backed Senator McClaim this time. Other than that, Huntsman's impressive, but a bit of a daddy's boy--though he's not deserving of that label as W. probably is.

Anyway, Huntsman not only has Romney taking up the same space, but Romney is so much more accomplished and established, and recognized. Also, Huntsman's a bit younger and despite the stupid media adoration of covering the acrobatics of Sarah Palin, and the potential of Bobby Jindal, there are other young guns with more potential out there like Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Mike Pence and Mark Sanford. Each of these guys, well all of these young guys will likely dilute one another in 2012, but it will be during that time that one or two of them will emerge above the others. Maybe Romney wins the election, but it could be another McCain or Dole year no matter who wins our nomination.

But one thing should be clear to us all: while Democrats lose when they let the class warfare crowd run the show, we lose when we allow the culture warfare crowd run our show. Huckabee, Palin, any of these Culturalist crusaders who are of questionable intelligence...if they take the reins again in 4 years, Obama will have a Reagan landslide. Evangelicals need to get over their petty disdain for mormons and unite behind their common political ground instead of acting like they're in some holy war. Idiots.

Posted by: iBR0CK | December 9, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

The Fix is too kind to the Republican evangelicals. They do not view Mormons as a cult. A cult is weird but otherwise harmless to everyone but possibly themselves. To an evangelical Mormons follow a false prophet which places them in the apostate/heretic camp. There is nothing worse. He would have more luck with these evangelicals if he was a pedophile abortionist. At least those are just serious, but regular sins.

Posted by: caribis | December 9, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it GREAT that Palin is so stupid she doesn't see the damage she causes to the NEO-CON ideology and republican brand!?!

Yup! Every time the idiot book-banner, power abuser, and expense account violator opens up her ideological/hypocrite mouth America gets reminded of what a bunch of greedy law breaking scum it is that represents that party in office!

YAY for Palin!

Posted by: onestring | December 9, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

The devil make them and the politic joined together. Gov. Palin should make plans to apply in FOX News. That is a bright future for every retired politician, plus she has beauty.

Posted by: zayxln | December 9, 2008 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Sounds a lot more appealing than Palin, anyway!!!

Posted by: herzliebster | December 9, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I think Huntsman's time will be in eight years. That bloc of voters skeptical about a Mormon is diminishing, and much less of a factor than it was eight years ago. As such, I think you'll see Mitt Romney as the republican nominee for president in eight years. He's potentially the only candidate who could be competitive in the fund-raising department against the President-elect. For now I place Huntsman on the same level as Bobby Jindal concerning his appeal.

Posted by: jdunph1 | December 9, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

All we know for sure is that Romney was smart enough not to say that he was "brainwashed" into changing so many of his positions from when he ran in Massachusetts.

Plus, don't forget the dog in the cartop carrier, or the comment about his sons "sacrificing" like our troops overseas. Or his being a hunter all his life! Open mouth, insert Florsheim.

Posted by: bulldog6 | December 9, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse





The Rising is certain to follow the Sports Illustrated Cover - instantly signaling a dip in the career of each person highlighted - or is a car accident?



Posted by: 37thandORules | December 9, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

To "chiguy":

It's not the substance of the complaint that raises eyebrows as much as the M.O., the way Bojo was arrested at his home instead of being allowed to surrender himself in consultation with his lawyer, as is usually the case in white-collar- type cases.

The way this arrest went down sends a parallel message that stands apart from the merit of the underlying case.

So I ask you, chiguy, what message were they trying to send with the manner of this apprehension?

I await your answer as I peruse the indictment.

Posted by: scrivener50 | December 9, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Good post. I'm not a Southerner, but I'm married to one. When the Mormons can produce a popular Republican Southern Governor who wants to take it to the next level, that's when they will have a candidate with national potential. If you aren't from the South, you face a very high hurdle with those folks before they feel comfortable with you, (Sarah Palin being a remarkable exception, and everything about that woman except her address says 'Southern'.) I think Romney's shortfall had a little less to do with religion and a lot more to do with region. I'm married to a Mormon from the South. I can tell you, she has membership in two religions. I think she's pretty typical. Huntsman is great. Unfortunately, as a Republican, and like ALL non-Southern Republicans, he's regionally challenged.

Posted by: watchinitall | December 9, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

After reading the complaint against G-Rod (in particular the part relating to the Senate appointment beginning on 56), it is clear that he thought he could shake Obama down for some sort of Cabinet appointment. The complaint is unclear if Blago and his cronies ever communicated these plans to Obama. If he did, it will be interesting to see who went to the feds. [My guess is Emanuel, who lives near Blago and succeeded him in Congress.]

RobT1: Unfortunately, Illinois has a bipartisan culture of corruption. Its just the democrats' turn to get indicted.

Scrivener50: Read the complaint (it's on the front page of the Post). There are multiple wiretaps and cooperating witnesses in this case.

As a resident of Illinois, I say good riddance!

Posted by: chiguy | December 9, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure witht he arrest of the DEMOCRATIC Governor of Illinois that the MSM will come out with lots of articles detailing the Democratic party's culture of corruption. Not!!

Posted by: RobT1 | December 9, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Typical Dem/Lib:

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiring to get financial benefits through his authority to appoint a U.S. senator to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama.

Pardons for sale.......

Posted by: king_of_zouk | December 9, 2008 10:37 AM | Report abuse


When the Governor of one of the most populous states in America, home of the next president, is arrested at his home along with his chief of staff, in connection to charges stemming from a POLITICAL decision involving the President-elect's vacated Senate seat, I have to ask:

Just what is happening here?

This "M.O." is reminiscent of the raid on William Jefferson's Capitol Hill office. But this time, a public official's home is the locus of the apprehension.

Apprehension, indeed. The circumstances of this arrest would seem to have a chilling effect on the body politic. Is rigor mortis setting in?

I must interrupt this thread to solicit your thoughts on this, Chris.

Posted by: scrivener50 | December 9, 2008 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Again, we see the wealth of the Mormon Church, most of it amassed under George Bush who gave them unlimited rein over his own "reign". If it were not for the fanantical secrecy of the Mormons, I think we would see the tentacles of the LDS in the failure of Wall Street, rebuilding of New Orleans, etc.

Posted by: pkbishop | December 9, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

The Utah state Senate is more than 2/3 Republican, and the House is more than 3/4 Republican. Huntsman can claim to be bipartisan, but he never actually needs to be, because Utah is practically a one-party state.

Governing a lightly-populated, loyally Republican state is not good preparation for being president. That was a problem for Palin, and it will be a problem for Huntsman too. A Palin/Huntsman ticket would be an especially bad idea for this reason.

Posted by: Blarg | December 9, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Huntsman is kind of intriguing, but does he have the juice for a national run? Dunno about that.

Off-topic, but CC was one of the earliest and best chroniclers of the R 527 group Freedom's Watch. Looks like Freedom is going to have Watch out for itself now. Sheldon Adelson, Vegas's right-wing answer to George Soros, pulled the plug:

Sorry for the link to the Moonie Times.

Posted by: novamatt | December 9, 2008 8:54 AM | Report abuse

If he is smart he will sit out 2012 and build up some bipartisan street cred nationally. I would advise him to continue doing comercials with Arnold and the Governor of Montana.

On that same point it is nice to see the Governors take a more national role in setting policy. I am a Jeffersonian democrat and think that the States have for too long not had a real voice. With Arnold at the head their is a growing group of Governors who have no intention of running for national office and are instead influencing policy through legislation and speaches on the state level.
This will be most evident in the Energy reform policy that is sure to come down the pipeline in a year or so.

Posted by: AndyR3 | December 9, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

You really believe that a member of a CULT can be elected President?

C'mon . . . . . .

And I am talking about both the "empty suit" Palin and the Utah guy.


Posted by: swanieaz | December 9, 2008 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Huntsman owes his entire political career to the patronage of his father. If not for Jon Huntsman Sr's contributions to the Republican party and the Bush family, the son would never have been ambassador to Singapore nor deputy trade representative. Consequently he would not have been able to muscle out a popular sitting Republican governor in the 2004 Utah primary.

Huntsman chose McCain over family friend Romney in this year's presidential contest in part because he knew there could only be one Mormon president in our lifetime, and he wanted that Mormon to be he.

Posted by: BDaren | December 9, 2008 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Why not a Palin-Huntsman ticket? She seems to believe that on;t red state governors have the "pro-America" chops to "govern." A perfect match...

Posted by: parkerfl1 | December 9, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

"A Romney candidacy would also force Huntsman to answer questions about whether the Republican field was big enough for two Mormons"

Or even one. Do Americans really want NASA spending its funds trying to reach the planet that circles the star Kolob, where God and his wife live in their magic underwear? You know the Heavenly Father wants us to come by and say hello.

Palin Of the 3,000-Year-Old Earth and her witch purification before running for governor... Jindal and his exorcisms... Huckabee and his desire to "make the Constitution look more like the Bible"... is there anyone left in the GOP who's not a certified religious nutcase? Our soldiers are fighthing these people in Afghanistan. We certainly don't need to elect them here at home. What century is it?

Posted by: B2O2 | December 9, 2008 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Thanx for the heads up, Chris.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | December 9, 2008 7:39 AM | Report abuse

It will be interesting in the next few years to see what Prop 8 in California has done for Mormon politicians like Huntsman (if anything). Romney became somewhat associated with the fight for traditional marriage while he was governor of Massachusetts after that state's supreme court legalized same-sex unions. It seemed to make little to no difference in the 2008 primary campaign (but that was prior to the very high-profile Prop 8 fight).

Now, however, and whether it's warranted or not, Mormons have been branded as Public Enemy #1 to gays, something that might actually ingratiate Huntsman or Romney or others to those evangelican voters in the Republican Party who were the biggest anti-Mormon holdouts with respect to Romney.

On the other hand, Harry Reid (another Mormon) is Senate Majority leader -- will his political tenure or future be threatened merely because of his membership in the Church if he is seen as radioactive by a crucial Democratic Party constituency (gays)?

I read once during the 2008 campaign, and thought it was an astute observation, that Romney was so much on defense about his church, there seemed to be no room to discuss any upside that being a Mormon might have for his presidency. Perhaps Huntsman could change this, as the point you make -- he speaks fluent Mandarin and is an expert on China -- would not have been possible without his Mormon mission to China several years ago. Stay tuned ....

Posted by: Booklover1 | December 9, 2008 7:36 AM | Report abuse

It's hard to say at this point what impact Huntsman's religion will have, particularly if there are two Mormons in the race. It could be that the next presidential campaign will take little stock of this (or any other religion, race, gender characteristic), particularly since we now have a black president and our first Vietnamese-American member of Congress.

It also depends on where the Republican party stands in 4 years time and which wing wins the battle for its soul. If the social conservatives win, it will be difficult for Hunstman or Romney to make any headway (and I think Romney is damaged goods at this point.)

Posted by: RickJ | December 9, 2008 7:30 AM | Report abuse

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