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Ann McFeatters: Huntsman is winning combination of best attributes of all candidates

By Ann McFeatters

Scripps Howard News Service

Published: Sunday, Nov. 27 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye, right, greet members of the Chinese delegation before President Barack Obama welcomed China's President Hu Jintao, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, during a state arrival on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — If Jon Huntsman were the GOP presidential nominee, President Barack Obama probably would be moving back to Chicago in January 2013.

With the advantage from Republicans' perspective that he's not Obama, Huntsman appeals to many independents because he's not a tea partier. And, once again, independents will decide the election.

Like Mitt Romney, Huntsman is a successful businessman and a former governor.

Like Newt Gingrich, Huntsman has been out of the country, although while Gingrich favors cruises around the Greek isles, Huntsman has lived abroad.

Like Rick Perry and Herman Cain, Huntsman has a sense of humor although he hasn't been as humorously gaffe prone.

Like Michele Bachmann, Huntsman loves children. Bachmann has five of her own and hosted 23 foster children, and Huntsman has seven children, including one adopted from China and one from India.

Like Ron Paul, Huntsman is worried about the United States getting into war after war after war.

Like Rick Santorum, well, no, Huntsman is a conservative but nowhere near that dogmatic.

Huntsman not only speaks Mandarin Chinese but Taiwanese Hokkein, learned as a young Mormon missionary. He was ambassador to Singapore and U.S. trade ambassador under President George W. Bush. As Obama's former ambassador to China, Huntsman understands China's importance. For some, however, his service there under Obama makes him a traitor to Republicans, while some Democrats think he is disloyal to Obama for now attacking his former boss.

At the 11th GOP debate (are we having fun yet?), the topic was national security. Huntsman alone made the point that foreign policy must be considered in the light of America's economic woes.

As Gingrich was calling for regime change in Iran by bombing Iran's refinery and preventing Iran from getting gasoline, Huntsman was calling for common sense. (One wonders if Gingrich has any idea how large Iran is.)

At the debate, Huntsman argued against keeping 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan, warning about the perils of nation building and the need to rebuild America. America needs to realize the sacrifices we've made there, he said. Romney said the U.S. military has to stay to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a refuge for terrorists. (One wonders how long this would be and how Romney would propose to pay for it.)

Hurrah for Huntsman pointing out to Romney that the president can't just listen to the country's generals (remember Vietnam, he said) but has to be the commander in chief with ideas and goals of his own.

Hurrah for Huntsman warning Gingrich, who wants to strengthen the Patriot Act at the expense of civil liberties, that Americans must be "very careful" to protect civil liberties. America must not lose its "shining brand."

Hurrah for Huntsman who says that we can't have banks that are too big to fail.

Obama has good credentials on foreign policy; his administration killed Osama bin Laden and helped bring down Moammar Gadhafi. But for many voters, it will be hard to get past 9 percent unemployment. It may not be fair, but the president gets the credit when the economy is good and the blame when it is bad.

At 2 percent in the polls, Huntsman so far is not resonating nationally in this race. He has put all his eggs in one basket — New Hampshire. If he wins there — a formidable challenge because Romney was governor of a neighboring state — Huntsman then becomes a plausible contender for the nomination.

Huntsman's dilemma was laid bare on Saturday Night Live, when Seth Meyers said he would say something Americans never hear in the debates: "Governor Huntsman, the first question is for you."

Huntsman's hope is that after everyone else in the race has been frontrunner for a few minutes, he'll get his turn too.

But winning still is about organization and money. And although Huntsman's father is a billionaire, so far campaign donations are not flowing into Huntsman's coffers as they are into Romney's.

If Romney is the nominee, there is a 50-50 chance that Obama will be reelected.

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.

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