Sources: Huntsman once kinda sorta supported a health-care mandate for Utah

The latest in a continuing series of HuffPo reports aimed at nuking Republican centrists in the primary by tying them to ObamaCare’s most radioactive element. Yesterday it was Daniels’s turn, but they didn’t find much — just a single eight-year-old news story that didn’t even include a direct quote about the mandate from the man himself. Today Daniels’s team produced a copy of his 2004 health-care platform that appears to debunk the story definitively. There’s no mention of a mandate in it; in fact, comically, HuffPo itself refers to yesterday’s story near the end of today’s Huntsman piece as having been based on, er, “assertions.”

This one, though, is more interesting.

Sundwall accepted the job. As soon as Huntsman was sworn in, the administration convened a group on health care to hash out a reform plan. They met for regular dinners at the house of a supporter who lived near the governor’s residence. The group concluded, Sundwall said, that you couldn’t do reform without a mandate.

The governor, he added, signed on to the idea. “He was supportive,” Sundwall said. “It was something he would have liked to have happened.”…

Judi Hilman, executive director of the nonpartisan Utah Health Policy Project, also hasn’t forgotten Huntsman’s support for requiring individuals to buy health insurance. “He did want the mandate. He certainly had advisers around him that understood none of this works without a mandate,” she said…

Hilman said the governor and some legislators were particularly enthralled with Romney’s overhaul of his state’s system. “His interest piqued when the Massachusetts reforms came together,” Hilman explains. Huntsman and legislators “saw it as this product that came out of the Heritage Foundation. They really loved this idea,” he added.

Rarely do I ask you to follow a link and read the whole thing, but I’m asking now. The story’s too long and involved for me to do justice to it in a fair-use-worthy blockquote. Both Huntsman himself and his top aide John Weaver deny that he ever firmly pushed a mandate on the state legislature, and that appears to be true. Allegedly he made a presentation to the legislature based partly on Romney’s plan — but they hated it, so he dropped it. Said Huntsman, in non-denial denial mode, “As governor, you’ve got to explore every approach, every policy option there is. You’d be disingenuous as a leader if you didn’t.” To which HuffPo replies: Okay, but what would have been the outcome had Huntsman faced a liberal legislature, as Romney did in Massachusetts? Touche.

No one will care about this unless/until JH is as much of a threat to win the nomination as Romney, but he’s already stumping in New Hampshire and could be a thorn in Mitt’s side in a tight race with Pawlenty and/or Daniels. And if he is, and ends up hammering Romney on RomneyCare, rest assured that you’ll be reading this story again courtesy of Team Mitt eight months from now. Here’s a snippet from this morning’s GMA of Huntsman being asked whether he’d vote for Paul Ryan’s budget, including the Medicare provisions. Given that people have been stomping on Gingrich’s face for the past five days for answering this same question incorrectly, I think Huntsman knew which way to go.