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Huntsman association with No Labels group could hurt his future with GOP

Published: Thursday, Nov. 29 2012 10:50 a.m. MST

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is interviewed Tuesday, May 1, 2012, in Salt Lake City. Huntsman is poised to play a key role in No Labels, a national organization that promotes bipartisanship, a move that some see as all but ending his political career as a Republican.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is poised to play a key role in No Labels, a national organization that promotes bipartisanship, a move that some see as all but ending his political career as a Republican.

“This does pretty much cut the last plausible ties between him and the Republican Party,” said Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The move makes another Huntsman run for the White House as a Republican all but impossible, Wilson said. Huntsman has been seen as a possible contender in 2016, after dropping out of this year's presidential race.

“Realistically, you would have to see going in that direction has pretty much foreclosed a presidential run,” Wilson said. “I just don't think it's in the cards for him to be president.”

University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala agreed that Huntsman may not have a political future as a member of the GOP now that he's aligned with No Labels.

“I think it spells dead end,” Scala said. “For someone to say, 'I'm going to choose no label over the Republican Party label,' tells you all you need to know.”

One of Huntsman's campaign advisers in New Hampshire, Peter Spaulding, said he's not sure what to expect from the former candidate's association with an organization critical of both parties.

“It depends on how you do it. There's a way to be bipartisan without trashing your own party,” Spaulding said. Still, he said, there's a possibility pointing out the polarization could be a plus for another Huntsman run.

“I think somebody who can come across as willing to work in a bipartisan manner and willing to work on problems rather than spouting ideology is going to find a receptive audience in New Hampshire and the nation,” Spaulding said.

Huntsman, who ended his presidential bid in January after a disappointing third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, said throughout his campaign that too many politicians put party before country. He has continued his criticism, aiming much of it at the GOP.

“We get caught up in labeling people,” Huntsman said in a recent KSL-TV interview, calling on the Republican Party to start focusing on solutions to the nation's problems  “as opposed to strict ideology that becomes a litmus test.”

He is expected to become co-chairman of the Washington-based nonprofit organization claiming 600,000 members dedicated to helping “move America from the old politics of point scoring toward a new politics of problem solving.” 

No Labels was not ready to announce Huntsman's new role Wednesday but early Thursday, co-founder Mark McKinnon issued a statement saying, "We expect that he will be joining the organization in leadership capacity at some time in the near future."

McKinnion,a political adviser who has worked for Democrats and Republicans, including former President George W. Bush, also said the organization appreciated Huntsman's contributions, which have included participating in several conference calls.

The organization sent out a fundraising email Wednesday, seeking contributions to help fund a “blueprint to change the culture in Washington” that includes withholding congressional paychecks until a budget is passed.

Scala said the organization doesn't carry enough weight to boost Huntsman's reputation amid talk he might be asked to rejoin the Obama administration, possibly as secretary of state. He had served as the Democratic president's U.S. ambassador to China.

“I don't know that joining it and becoming the face of it will make political insiders, like the Obama administration, take Huntsman all that seriously,” Scala said. “Nobody knows what it's there for. It hasn't done much of anything.”

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