Huntsman: the 'Next Big Thing' in politics?

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 10 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s national profile continues to rise, with the Washington Post on Tuesday labeling him the "Next Big Thing" in politics — and a potential presidential candidate in 2012.

In his blog, "The Fix," the Post's Chris Cillizza says Huntsman "certainly has the look and feel of a future presidential candidate" but warns that his Mormon faith would be a major obstacle.

The former White House correspondent for Roll Call magazine in Washington says Huntsman's appeal includes pushing for bipartisanship in "ruby-red" Republican Utah as well as his progressive views on environmental issues.

Huntsman is described as openly critical of national Republican leadership, including the campaign of the party's presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Huntsman was an early and loyal backer of McCain, despite the popularity in Utah of McCain's primary opponent, Mitt Romney.

Romney's likely bid in 2012 is cited as a problem for a Huntsman candidacy, as is being a member of The Church of

Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Cillizza says the opposition that surfaced against Romney's Mormon faith in the 2008 GOP primary proves there are voters who believe "Mormonism to be a cult and simply will not support any candidate who adheres to its tenets."

There may not be room for two Mormons in the race, Cillizza says. Voters who won't cite gender or race as a reason not to support a candidate have "no such hesitation to voicing opposition to a Mormon candidate," he said.

Cillizza uses Huntsman to launch a new feature on "the next set of party leaders, presidential candidates and other elected officials who will help shape the political landscape in the next four years or so."

The blog posting isn't the first time Huntsman has attracted the attention of the national media since the Republicans lost the White House. A week after the election, the online news source, Politico.com, cited Huntsman as a prospect in 2012.

And Huntsman has acknowledged being contacted by members of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team about his interest in joining the new administration. Late last month, Huntsman traveled to Washington to present the Western Governors' Association's proposed national energy policy to the transition team.

While the governor has said repeatedly he plans to serve out his second term, he has also been vocal about what the national GOP needs to do to appeal to voters. Huntsman, who heads the WGA, said governors should take the lead.

But he told the Deseret News just days after the election that he saw himself only as a governor with four years left in office.

"I didn't see myself on a state level five years ago, so you can't even throw that one out," Huntsman said when asked about his interest in a presidential run. "Politics is a lot of serendipity."


E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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