When Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. delivers a proposed national energy policy from the Western Governors Association to President-elect Barack Obama in the coming weeks, he'll also be doing his part to rebuild the GOP.
Huntsman and other Republicans nationwide are looking at ways the party needs to change to avoid another loss like that suffered by their presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
"When the consumer repudiates your policies nationally, then you know you've got to do a better job in retooling and repackaging, in marketing them so you get something that represents greater voter appeal," he said.
The governor, who campaigned around the country for McCain, called the election results "a serious letdown." He said the party needs to update its core issues to reflect what matters to a majority of voters.
Energy is one of those issues, he said.
The WGA policy, which Huntsman said has the support of 20 of the 22 Western governors, is a bipartisan effort. But the governor said it represents an opportunity to show that Republicans can cooperate with Democrats and produce results.
Huntsman has bucked his own party in Utah to support a climate change initiative championed by moderate GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as a WGA immigration initiative that called for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Some Republicans are already touting Huntsman as a likely leader in the reshaping of the national party. "Huntsman has a very bright future," said Tim Bridgewater, who served as McCain's Utah-based Western states regional coordinator.
The governor said the party's future will likely dominate next week's meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Miami. Huntsman said governors should have a key role in redirecting the GOP's path.
"I look forward to participating in those discussions," he said. "It's a good thing for governors to participate in this debate because it's out in the states where real things are happening. We have to manage, we have to lead, we have to put forward ideas."
Huntsman also said Republicans should look to the nation's governors when choosing a candidate for the White House in 2012. "I think the party's going to look to people who have actually lived what they are preaching," he said.
But he stopped short of saying McCain's choice for vice president, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has earned the nomination next time around. Palin has been blamed by some in the GOP for McCain's big loss to Obama.
"Sarah Palin did her best in a very difficult environment," he said. "She was thoroughly scrutinized, as people should be at that level. And was found to be lacking in certain areas as most candidates are, by the way. I'm sure she's learned a lot from the experience."
Huntsman, who had given Palin a strong endorsement when she was added to the ticket, predicted she "will become better and stronger in her next round of political involvement, whatever that might be whether it's a senator or a governor, who knows."
The governor also passed on endorsing the state's "favorite son" presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and is a Mormon like the majority of Utahns, including Huntsman.
"I think there will be a lot of personalities emerging between now and 2012. I think the party needs to be smart enough to maintain an open mind. Obama was nowhere on the radar screen four years ago," the governor said.Asked if he was a contender, Huntsman demurred. "I'm just a governor, who has four years left," he said. "I didn't see myself on a state level five years ago, so you can't even throw that one out. Politics is a lot of serendipity."
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