Nolan Karras has waged a thoughtful, well-reasoned campaign for governor over the past several months, but some days he must wonder what's going to hit him next.

A new poll released over the weekend shows Karras still badly trailing rival Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. as next Tuesday's GOP primary approaches.

And Monday night a new Huntsman TV ad began running — a one-minute spot showing former President George H.W. Bush "strongly" urges Utahns to elect Huntsman.

Karras' campaign spokesman said the endorsement ad is just another example of the Huntsmans' elitist tendencies.

While Huntsman's campaign will be spending more than $100,000 on the new Bush spot (now running in combination with a 30-second TV ad on Huntsman's education/economic development ideas), Karras is not running a new TV ad yet.

Several new Karras TV and radio ads are scheduled for this week, said campaign manager Steve Starks. Older TV and radio ads were running last week.

"They have resources we don't have," Starks said of the Huntsman family. "But we'll have a new TV ad" running Tuesday.

That ad shows Karras on a school bus talking about his education plan.

"We have a fairly aggressive buy, but nowhere near $100,000," Starks said.

The Bush TV ad clearly is in response to Karras' continued criticism — albeit indirect — of Huntsman's pedigree and wealth. A new Karras billboard's tag line reads "experience money can't buy."

Huntsman is one of Utah's wealthiest individuals, coming from the philanthropic/billionaire family of Jon Huntsman Sr.

The new TV ad has Huntsman Jr. saying that not all the work he's done for Huntsman Chemical, the family's chemical firm, or even the Huntsman Cancer Foundation can replace his family and the need he sees for securing the future of Utah's children.

Bush then comes on to praise Huntsman Jr.'s service in the Reagan/Bush administration, "my administration" and for the "current president" — who is, of course, the unnamed President George W. Bush. (Huntsman Jr. worked as a White House aide for Ronald Reagan, ambassador to Singapore for George H.W. Bush and as a trade ambassador for the current President Bush.)

Besides touting Huntsman Jr.'s business and government experience, Bush also doesn't call him Huntsman Jr. — Bush just calls him "Jon Huntsman," perhaps an attempt to distance Huntsman Jr. from his well-to-do father.

In a final match-up between a Democrat and Republican, it is not unusual for a sitting GOP president to cut an ad for a Utah candidate. Reagan himself came to Utah in 1982 to give Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a boost when he was challenged by the then-popular Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson.

"Yeah, the Gipper came in four days before that election" and the popular Reagan's endorsement and appearance with Hatch "made my political life move before my eyes," Wilson recalled Monday. Hatch handily defeated Wilson that year.

"But you have to say that an endorsement by the former President G.H.W. Bush, who is well-liked by all Utahns, is a biggie — very significant for Huntsman," Wilson said.

Wilson said to get such an endorsement just before a primary is especially helpful.

Starks said he finds it surprising that the former president would endorse Huntsman Jr. "considering what his dad, Jon Huntsman Sr., said about his son's administration."

Starks refers to a newspaper article last month that quoted the senior Huntsman as saying "the average guy on the street is getting killed because this administration does not care" about the price of oil and other important commodities.

"Nolan's dad was a volunteer firefighter and never had the chance to meet" the former President Bush, said Starks. "But if he had, I'm sure he would endorse Nolan as well."

While Huntsman Jr. was in Washington, D.C., making friends with national politicians, "Nolan was here in Utah, quietly serving the state" as a legislator, chairman of the Board of Regents and other offices, said Starks.

Jason Chaffetz, Huntsman campaign manager, said the last-minute Huntsman campaign spending, TV ads and big-name endorsements are not an attempt to bash Karras or run up the score in Tuesday's primary. "We're not trying to send any message" to Democrat Scott Matheson Jr., who awaits the final GOP winner.

"The primary is all about turnout," said Chaffetz. "We're worried that people are saying, 'Oh, (Huntsman) is way up in the polls, we don't have to vote.' "

Still, Chaffetz admitted the campaign is making a significant air-time buy over the next week and complained that the campaign can't get as many spots on KSL-TV's 10 p.m. newscast as it would like.

"We're using direct mail and other avenues" in a get-out-the-vote effort, said Chaffetz. "But the TV (ad campaign) is a kind of turn-out-the-vote as well," for Bush reminds people that there is an important election Tuesday.

All the last-minute media campaign efforts come as the Exoro Group, a bipartisan lobbying/government affairs group headed up by Wilson, a Democrat, and former GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter (chairman of Karras' campaign), released a Dan Jones & Associates poll over the weekend that shows Huntsman leads Karras by 40-to-45 percentage points among various voter categories. The new survey shows the men's standings have not changed much from a Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll of a month ago.

Finally, a new Web site has sprung up that, among other things, questions Huntsman Jr.'s business expertise — www.UtahSerfs.com. It quotes from a recent Huntsman Chemical financial statement that shows the firm losing $50 million the first quarter of this year and owing billions of dollars in debt.

As reported by the Deseret Morning News last January, the Huntsman's chemical empire was losing money heavily the last several years as the price of oil and natural gas increased and petrochemical demand slackened.

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CEO Peter Huntsman, Huntsman Jr.'s younger brother, said the company has turned around recently, however, as the worldwide petrochemical industry has rebounded. In 2000, the family sold 49.9 percent of the firm to CSFB Global Opportunities Partners LP, a Boston-based investment fund. Without that sale, Peter Huntsman told the newspaper in January, "We would have been bankrupt, no doubt about it."

Huntsman LLC, the holding company, is the largest privately held chemical firm in the world and Forbes Magazine recently estimated Jon Huntsman Sr.'s wealth at more than $2 billion.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com