Utahn serving as Huntsman's national finance chairman feels the heat

Published: Sunday, Sept. 18 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

After about a month on the job, Wright has perfected his pitch to prospective contributors. The gist is that Huntsman is the only Republican who can defeat President Barack Obama in November 2012.

"He's a remarkable politician. He will not be easy to beat. These candidates who are on the fringe of our party who think they're going to get in and beat President Obama, I think, are a bit delusional," Wright said.

He declines to be specific about which candidates he's referring to, other than Texas Rep. Ron Paul, known for his sometimes extreme libertarian views on government.

"You throw Ron Paul out there, I can guarantee you are going to lose the election," Wright said. "When you look at many of the candidates, they're not that far from Ron Paul."

The current GOP frontrunner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is "not as fringe as Ron Paul, but I don't know that the country is ready for another governor from Texas. I think he's said some fairly controversial things."

That's baggage Huntsman doesn't have, Wright said.

And Mitt Romney, who outpolls Huntsman even in Utah? Wright said Romney can't match Huntsman's combination of "sunny, western conservatism," international expertise and private sector experience in his family's billion-dollar chemical empire.

Then there's the image of Huntsman as a free-thinking, Harley riding, rock-n' roll loving candidate portrayed in media outlets ranging from Vogue magazine to Fox News to CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight.

Members of the national media "find him a fascinating candidate. I mean, he is a center-right candidate. He's not trying to play to the right. He is being who he is," Wright said.

He said every time Huntsman appears in print or on television, there's a spike in online contributions, usually from $25 to $100, from people smitten with what they've seen.

"I don't look at a myself as having to sell Jon Huntsman," he said. "I just have to merely get the word out of who he is. That's a different proposition. Maybe you would say that's semantics."

And maybe the same could be said about how he describes those who decline to give to the campaign when asked.

"I would say that we have been turned down in a way that's somewhat palatable, because there's still people on the fence," Wright said. "It's not that they don’t like Gov. Huntsman or support him. It's a matter of timing. … That's in a way good news, because they're not with another candidate."

Wright said he's devoting about 80 percent of his time to the campaign, including supervising a team of more than 250 volunteer fundraisers nationwide. He compared the campaign to a startup company.

"There has been a lot of press about staff changes and what have you, but I think you build the structure to match the strategy," he said. "And we have a strategy for the long haul."

A key member of that fundraising team, Lew Cramer, head of the World Trade Center in Utah, said Wright is doing just fine.

"He's a very talented individual. He's a fast learner. I see some very expansive plans for national fundraising," Cramer said. "I feel very positive about this."

Jeff Wright bio:

Education: University of Utah, Oxford University, London School of Economics

Professional: chairman, Actium Partners, private investment firm; founder and board member, StruckAxiom, advertising agency; managing partner, W Exploration, national gas exploration and production company; president and managing partner, Wright Ventures-Orbis Capital, investing company; and managing partner, VenWright-Volpe Capital, equity and real estate holding company

Current service: Pacific Council on International Policy; Leadership Community Council on Internationalization of the U.; U. Student Initiatives Board; U. International Leadership Academy mentor; Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control commissioner, Huntsman for President 2012 national finance chairman

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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