He's Devout, Handsome and - Would You Believe It - Sensible. Could Jon Huntsman Be the Answer to the Republican Party's Prayers?

By Usborne, David | The Independent (London, England), June 25, 2011 | Go to article overview
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He's Devout, Handsome and - Would You Believe It - Sensible. Could Jon Huntsman Be the Answer to the Republican Party's Prayers?


Usborne, David, The Independent (London, England)


David Usborne spends some quality time with the man who may prove the greatest threat to Obama

For those of us crammed into the sixth floor of an anonymous office tower in downtown Orlando it is like witnessing the rushed birth of a corporation. The beaming CEO arrives to cut a ribbon with cardboard scissors and to give a pep talk to eager workers he has never met before. The place will soon be a hub of mad activity but today rows of doors reveal offices without furniture, and no one has business cards yet.

Quick off the mark, however, have been the branding people. Posters are everywhere sporting a snazzy "H" logo in red and black, as if advertising a new men's scent or a department store.

It stands for Huntsman, first name Jon, whom everyone has come to see. And although business has been a big part of this Utah native's life, what he's launching here is different: he is running to be president of the United States of America.

Mr Huntsman, 51, with is matinee-idol looks and picture-perfect family - he and his wife, Mary Kaye, have seven children, the last two adopted from China and India - announced before the Statue of Liberty on Tuesday that he was crashing the party to seek the Republican nomination for president.

His quest to become the chosen one to take on President Barack Obama in 2012 has the political parlours of America in a tizzy. No one is yet able to guess whether he might catch fire and snatch the front-runner's position from Mitt Romney - a fellow Mormon and distant cousin - or fizzle out in the first furlong.

That it will be tricky hoeing has not escaped him. He has chosen to compete in a year when, in the primary process at least, the conservative wing of the party will be more influential than ever. This is problematic for a man who favours civil unions for gays, who believes global warming is man-made and who even this week has voiced his respect for President Obama, for whom until 53 days ago he was ambassador in China.

For all his acumen, his first days on the trail have been marked by mild chaos. Here, he arrives one hour late for the ribbon cutting. At Lady Liberty, aides handed out press passes with Jon spelled as John. And someone else who is not a fan has claimed ownership of jonhuntsman.com and posted on the site a letter the candidate wrote praising Mr Obama in 2009 on his dispatch to Beijing, fringed with valentine hearts.

"It's going to be a hard-fought battle, I can tell you that," he warns when finally he grasps a microphone, his wife and five of his children and one son-in-law at his side. "We know it's going to be tough, and it's going to be bruising, and there are going to be some tough days."

Mr Huntsman, however, has an electric smile and even here there is no mistaking the ease with which he shakes hands and talks to staff and would-be supporters. If the FPH - feet per hour - a candidate covers working a crowd is a measure of skilful campaigning, he looks like a champion. He covers barely 20ft in a quarter of an hour.

His focus at this event is on his staff as much as on voters, however. And he offers some guiding principles he says he wants them to hold close. The first is what every candidate will say this year. "To all those who will be roaming these halls I want you just keep in mind jobs and the economy. I don't want you ever to forget what is driving this campaign. This is about getting the greatest nation that there ever was back on its feet again." But the smiling Mormon also reiterates something else he wants as a key theme of his campaign that some think will be his Achilles heel. It's about niceness.

"Civility means something," he offers to applause. "I don't believe that you have to run down another human being to run for president of the United States." This, he goes on, is about, "civility, respect and that sense of decency and humanity that made this great country.

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