Bush Sr. backs Huntsman

Karras aide says the ad exemplifies elitist tendencies

Published: Tuesday, June 15 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

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."

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