One recurring theme which has kept cropping up during discussions of second tier candidates this year is money. How much do you have, how much do you need, where are you going to get it? Super PAC funds are nice, but you really have no control over the message in terms of the ads they run and you can’t touch those funds for the day to day infrastructure costs of a national campaign. In the case of Jon Huntsman, fresh off a third place, “ticket to ride” finish in New Hampshire, his family fortune, including the wealth of his billionaire father, keeps being mentioned.
Would his Granite State showing be impressive enough to suddenly have his father open up the cash taps into his Super PAC? Will the candidate dip into his own pockets to finance his push in South Carolina? (And, possibly, Florida?) During his last interview before New Hampshire voting took place, it didn’t sound like it.
When questioned on the subject by CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, Huntsman noted that he didn’t usually consider politics a worthy cause for donation – but he stopped short of totally ruling out the possibility.
“If you finish in the single digits do you go into your personal wealth and carry the campaign into South Carolina and beyond?” Pelley asked Huntsman in an interview for the Evening News. (Watch more of the interview on CBS at 6:30 p.m. ET.)
“We’re a humanitarian family. You know, we typically give to humanitarian causes. And I’ve always argued that politics doesn’t qualify necessarily as a humanitarian cause,” Huntsman laughed in response.
It’s an interesting and even somewhat clever response. In one shot he gets to point out that he’s a generous, moral soul who leans toward charitable donations, while showing a little disdain for campaign finance infighting, but dodges any commitment to spending his own cash. He certainly has some money to spend, as does his family. But not many people are so wealthy that they can just start flushing away their savings at ten or twenty million dollars a pop with little prospect of a return on investment.
I’m not sure how many other options Huntsman has, though. It seems very unlikely that a third place finish on Tuesday, capturing less than half of the winner’s total, will inspire the confidence required for a flood of fresh independent donations to appear. And his prospects in South Carolina look, if anything, even worse than they did yesterday with less time to build up his ground game. While I’m generally terrible at predictions, I have the feeling that anything less than second place in this next primary will end up pushing Huntsman out of the race entirely. And even second place looks like a huge mountain for Huntsman to climb.