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Romney and Huntsman have differing leadership styles

Published: Saturday, Dec. 3 2011 8:38 p.m. MST

Presidential candidates Jon Huntsman Jr. and Newt Gingrich talk with Mitt Romney at a Republican presidential debate.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Two of the GOP presidential candidates seem a lot alike — both held key roles in Utah, both served as governors, both have private-sector experience, both are members of the LDS Church and both come from influential families.

The biggest difference between Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr., though, may well be their distinct leadership styles.

Romney, credited with turning around the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City after making millions of dollars in the business world, is viewed as a CEO, despite a term as governor of Massachusetts.

Huntsman, a former Utah governor who has spent time overseas serving as U.S. ambassador — including a prestigious posting in China — in addition to helping run his family's international chemical empire, is seen as a diplomat.

It's a difference that voters are beginning to see on the campaign trail.

Romney sells himself as a successful executive ready to run the country like a business and take the action needed to end its economic woes. It's a strategy that's helped him stay in front of the GOP pack through much of the race.

Huntsman, however, is languishing in national polls. Largely unknown, he is portraying himself as an offbeat outsider whose interests include rock music and motorcycle rallies, in addition to being a diplomat well versed in world affairs.

"Both skills are needed," said state Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who worked closely with both Romney and Huntsman in Utah. Valentine backed Romney in his 2008 White House bid and is supporting him again for 2012 despite Huntsman's entry in the race.

"Romney is a very precise type of leader. He wants to know what the issues are, he wants to know what the alternatives are," Valentine said. Then he settles on a choice and goes for it.

"Huntsman is more laissez-faire," the former Utah Senate president said. "He doesn't focus as directly on alternatives. He's sort of, 'I'll surround myself with good people and let them make decisions.' … unless it's something he's really interested in."

Valentine recalled an Olympic oversight committee where Romney unsuccessfully pitched a special tax break aimed at getting the Games back into the black after the international scandal surrounding the city's bid.

Romney carefully laid out the options for closing the gap between revenues and expenditures, showing a detailed spreadsheet spelling out the shortfall in the Games budget.

"He was pretty animated with his defense," Valentine said. "I remember him with his big ol' smile saying, 'We want the Olympics to be successful and the state is going to have to help us where they can.' "

The answer from the committee, though, was no. Romney moved on, Valentine said. "He never took defeat easily, but once the decision was made, he supported the decision and lived with the decision."

In contrast, Valentine said, Huntsman "let 'his people,' which are mostly academic types" come up with specifics for overhauling Utah's tax structure a few years ago.

"He engaged in those issues, but his real passion was for (taking) the sales tax off food," Valentine said. Other issues that Huntsman threw himself into included establishing the now-defunct four-day workweek for state workers and easing tough liquor laws.

Huntsman was also different from other governors in how he confronted lawmakers and others who crossed him. Instead of "taking them to the woodshed" and chewing them out, Valentine said, Huntsman took a less confrontational approach.

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