Image: Huntsman
Mary Ann Chastain  /  AP
Jon Huntsman speaks at the commencement ceremony for the University of South Carolina on Saturday, May 7 2011 in Columbia, S.C.
By
updated 5/19/2011 2:31:39 PM ET 2011-05-19T18:31:39

It’s no accident that Jon Huntsman’s first campaign swing as potential presidential contender, which begins on Thursday, includes a “photo opportunity-only’’ stop at Robie’s Country Store in Hooksett, N.H.

The click of a camera is all that’s needed to invite the comparison to Jimmy Carter’s first trip to New Hampshire in 1975. The store’s former owner famously asked “Jimmy who?’’ during the visit by the then little-known peanut farmer and Georgia governor who, through the dint of his shoe-leather campaign, went on to become president.

The Republican Huntsman, President Obama's former ambassador to China and the former governor of Utah, is also trying to capitalize on his stranger status in the state that hosts the nation’s first primary. An announcement on a presidential bid is expected no earlier than mid-June.

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“It’s a smart political decision to set yourself up as the underdog, to cast yourself as the little guy in New Hampshire,’’ said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “It’s the standard trope of New Hampshire politics.’’

The center’s most recent poll found Huntsman favored by less than 1 percent of the state’s residents—71 percent had never heard of him.

Huntsman is hoping to change that with a foray into the state stretching across five days, with made-for-television stops at VFW posts, locally popular restaurants, and a gun shop. He is also scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester on Saturday.

A return trip to the state is already planned for June 3, when he will address Republican activists on a boat cruise on Lake Winnipesaukee.

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That’s a home base for the putative GOP front-runner, Mitt Romney, who owns a house on the lake and leads in state polls. Romney and Huntsman, both Mormons, are expected to compete for donors in Utah.

“No one can claim any turf yet,’’ said Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller. “He’s going to be spending a lot of time in New Hampshire if he runs.’’

Huntsman is also planting a flag in Florida, a reservoir of major fundraisers and the nation’s largest swing state: He's planning to put his campaign headquarters in Orlando if he runs.

Romney fired off a warning shot at potential rivals like Huntsman with a Las Vegas telethon on Monday that raised $10.25 million. Huntsman, whose father made a billion-dollar fortune in the chemical industry, has said he will not finance his own campaign.

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“Donors are still up for grabs, but every day there is increasing peer pressure from the Romney camp,’’ said GOP fundraiser Ana Navarro, who hosted a breakfast for Huntsman in the Miami area but hasn’t yet committed to any campaign.

New Hampshire, where independents are eligible to vote in the GOP primary, is likely to be more accepting of Huntsman’s breaks with party orthodoxy than early-voting states dominated by religious conservatives like Iowa and South Carolina. Huntsman has backed civil unions for same-sex couples and a cap-and-trade system to curb climate-changing carbon emissions. But perhaps his biggest liability in a GOP primary is his employment by the Obama administration, until recently, as the ambassador to China.

Huntsman’s plunge this week into retail politics contrasts with the aversion to the campaign trail demonstrated so far by other Republicans being urged to jump into the race, such as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Huntsman is slated to attend two forums showcasing presidential candidates: the Faith and Freedom Conference on June 3 in Washington and the Republican Leadership Conference June 16-19 in New Orleans.

It’s unclear whether Huntsman will return to New Hampshire on June 13 for a debate sponsored by CNN.

The article, "A Stranger in N.H., Huntsman Hits the Campaign Trail," first appeared in the National Journal.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

  • A look at the Republican candidates hoping to challenge Barack Obama in the general election.

  • Rick Perry, announced Aug. 13

    Image: Perry
    Sean Gardner  /  REUTERS
    Texas Gov. Rick Perry

    Mere hours before a major GOP debate in Iowa (and a couple of days before the high-interest Ames straw poll), the Perry camp announced that the Texas governor was all-in for 2012.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas governor.

    While some on ground in the early-caucus state criticized the distraction, strategists applauded the move and said Perry was giving Romney a run for his money.

    Slideshow: A look at Gov. Rick Perry's political career

    He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

  • Jon Huntsman, announced June 21

    Image: Jon Hunt
    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

    Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, made his bid official on June 21 at at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former governor of Utah.

    He vowed to provide "leadership that knows we need more than hope" and "leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems."

    The early days of his campaign were clouded with reports of internal discord among senior staffers.

    Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr.

    Huntsman, who is Mormon, worked as a missionary in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin. But his moderate credentials — backing civil unions for gays and the cap-and-trade energy legislation — could hurt him in a GOP primary. So could serving under Obama.

  • Michele Bachmann, announced on June 13

    Image: Michele Bachmann
    Larry Downing  /  REUTERS
    Rep. Michele Bachmann

    Born and raised in Iowa, this Tea Party favorite and Minnesota congresswoman announced during a June 13 GOP debate that she's officially in the running for the Republican nomination.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Minn. congresswoman.

    Bachmann tells The Associated Press she decided to jump into the 2012 race at this time because she believed it was "the right thing to do."

    She's been criticized for making some high-profile gaffes — among them, claiming taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for President Barack Obama's trip to India and identifying New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots.

    Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann

    But Bachmann's proved a viable fundraiser, collecting more than $2 million in political contributions in the first 90 days of 2011 — slightly exceeding the $1.8 million Mitt Romney brought in via his PAC in the first quarter.

  • Rick Santorum, announced on June 6

    Image: Rick Santorum
    Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
    Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum

    A staunch cultural conservative vehemently against abortion and gay marriage, the former Pennsylvania senator hopes to energize Republicans with a keen focus on social issues.

    He announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on FOX News, where he makes regular appearances. He make his run official on June 6 in Somerset, Pa., asking supporters to "Join the fight!"

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Pennsylvania senator.

    No stranger to controversy, Santorum was condemned by a wide range of groups in 2003 for equating homosexuality with incest, pedophilia and bestiality. More recently, Santorum faced criticism when he called Obama’s support for abortion rights “almost remarkable for a black man.”

    Slideshow: Rick Santorum's political life

    Since his defeat by Democrat Robert Casey in his 2006 re-election contest — by a whopping 18 percentage points — Santorum has worked as an attorney and as a think-tank contributor.

    A February straw poll at CPAC had him in twelfth place amongst Republicans with 2 percent of the vote.

  • Mitt Romney, announced on June 2

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Paul Sancya  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential candidate Mitt Romney

    The former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate has spent the last three years laying the foundations for another run at the White House — building a vigorous political action committee, making regular media appearances, and penning a policy-heavy book.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Mass. governor.

    In April, he announced, via YouTube and Twitter, that he'd formed an exploratory commitee. Romney made his run official in Stratham, N.H., on June 2.

    The former CEO of consulting firm Bain & Company and the president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney frequently highlights his business background as one of his main qualifications to serve as president.

    Slideshow: Mitt Romney's life in politics

    To capture the nomination, Romney will have to defend the health care overhaul he enacted during his governorship — legislation that bears similarities to the Obama-backed bill despised by many conservatives. He'll also have to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper (like supporting abortion rights in his 1994 and 2002 bids for office, but opposing them in his '08 run).

    In the first quarter of 2011, he netted some $1.8 million through his PAC "Free and Strong America."

  • Herman Cain, announced on May 21

    Image: Herman Cain
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images file
    Talk show host Herman Cain

    Cain, an Atlanta radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has support from some Tea Party factions.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Atlanta radio host.

    An African-American who describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate,” he was the first Republican to form a formal presidential exploratory committee. He officially entered the race in May, telling supporters, "When we wake up and they declare the presidential results, and Herman Cain is in the White House, we'll all be able to say, free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, this nation is free at last, again!"

    Prior to the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, Cain rehashed the birther theory, telling a Florida blogger, “I respect people that believe he should prove his citizenship ... He should prove he was born in the United States of America.”

  • Ron Paul, announced on May 13

    Image: Ron Paul
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Rep. Ron Paul

    In 2008, Texas congressman Ron Paul’s libertarian rallying cry — and his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — did not fall on deaf ears. An idiosyncratic foe of the Federal Reserve and a passionate advocate for limited government, Paul mounted a presidential run that was characterized by bursts of jaw-dropping online fundraising.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas congressman.

    Slideshow: Ron Paul

    He officially launched his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, saying, ""The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building ... Our time has come."

    In the first quarter of 2011, raked in some $3 million through his various political organizations.

  • Newt Gingrich, announced on May 11

    Image: Newt Gingrich
    John M. Heller  /  Getty Images file
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich remains a robust presence on the GOP stage as a prolific writer and political thinker. In recent years, Barack Obama has provided a new target for the blistering critiques Gingrich famously leveled at President Bill Clinton.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former speaker of the House.

    In early May, he made his 2012 run official. "I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.

Video: Gingrich on Huckabee, Reagan, Romney, Trump

  1. Transcript of: Gingrich on Huckabee, Reagan, Romney, Trump

    MR. GREGORY: What about Mike Huckabee ? Do his voters go to you? Will you be working for him?

    REP. GINGRICH: Look, his voters are very independent, and they're going to go where they believe that America needs to go both on conservative and spiritual values. Huckabee -- Governor Huckabee is going to remain a very important figure in the conservative moment, and I suspect that, that he is going to have a role to play for many years to come.

    MR. GREGORY: In the conservative moment, there is, of course, a celebration of Ronald Reagan . And a lot of candidates, you -- try to grab that mantle of Reagan . Back on this program in 1990 , you said some interesting things about Reagan . I want to show them.

    REP. GINGRICH: First of all, Ronald Reagan did a lot of things that conservatives didn't like. And I think it's a little bit much to go back and say that was Camelot , that that was an era of pure conservatism. George Bush isn't as good as Reagan was at making speeches on the right while governing in the center, but the fact is, that's what Ronald Reagan did.

    MR. GREGORY: Is that a model for President Gingrich ? Run on the right, govern from the center?

    REP. GINGRICH: Well, Ronald Reagan ran a very broad center right platform. Ronald Reagan ran on defeating the Soviet empire . He and I agreed totally on cutting taxes, and I helped pass

    the three tax cuts. Callista and I have done a movie, "Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny ." I just spoke yesterday at Eureka College , his alma mater, at -- in the commencement. He is an extraordinary man. But there is a lot to learn from him. You were mentioning earlier about the debt ceiling fight. Reagan had a pretty firm rule of get 80 percent and keep moving. Don't go for 100 percent.

    MR. GREGORY: Is that how you would approach it? Try to govern from the center?

    REP. GINGRICH: I -- the center right. I think it -- I don't think that people on the left would be very happy, but I've always said publicly, and Reagan believed this, you can't have a hard right presidency succeed because the country, there's a center-right majority that will isolate the left. There's not a right wing majority in this country. But clearly Reagan was a great conservative overall, and I think that my record is pretty extraordinarily conservative in the same tradition.

    MR. GREGORY: Who's the front-runner right now on the Republican side ?

    REP. GINGRICH: Oh, I suspect Governor Romney is just because of the scale of the money he has and the amount he can raise. But, candidly, since Governor Huntsman probably has equal amount of money, he may be in. If Donald Trump comes in, he has, he has...

    MR. GREGORY: Is he a serious candidate? Is Trump a serious candidate?

    REP. GINGRICH: Who knows? I mean, this is a free society, and anybody who wants to can come play. All three of them are capable of providing enough money on their own that they're very formidable candidates.

    MR. GREGORY: Would you entertain being on the ticket as a number two if it came to that?

    REP. GINGRICH: David , I want you to ask yourself, can you imagine any presidential nominee who would pick me to be the vice presidential candidate ?

    MR. GREGORY: But would you entertain it? Would that be a no?

    REP. GINGRICH: Nobody -- as Reagan said in '76 when he was hoping Ford would not ask him, nobody could automatically say no to the president of the United States . But it strikes me as so implausible, I'm not -- Callista and I will not spend long hours worrying about that question.

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