At this point, we don’teven know if Jon Huntsman is ready for Senator Jon Huntsman. CNN’s John King reported this on Sunday, and Salt Lake City’s KUTV picked it up this morning. Former Republican governor and Barack Obama appointed ambassador to China, John Huntsman, may come out of retirement after an embarrassing run for President in 2012 to challenge Mike Lee in 2016 for a seat in the US Senate. Purportedly, business interests are annoyed at Lee’s conservative approach to politics and want a moderate of Huntsman’s caliber to unseat him.
Well, maybe this is serious, but the introduction by KUTV’s Rod Decker makes it look like a fantasy. The reporter for Salt Lake City’s CBS affiliate couldn’t get Huntsman to pick up the phone, nor could he get a source to come on camera. Instead, Decker said, “I talked to someone who said he’d talked to Huntsman, [but] wouldn’t come on camera.” Call this REO Speedwagon reporting:
Jon Huntsman may return to Utah to challenge Sen. Mike Lee. Some business groups have hired public opinion polls, and are trying to recruit the former republican governor to take on the first-term republican senator for his place in Washington D.C..
“This probably would be the blockbuster senate race of the country” said Political scientist Kirk Jowers who says a race would bring national attention to Utah.
“To have a former governor, ambassador to China and presidential candidate against a very prominent tea-party leading Republican candidate.
“I’m told several business leaders in the state, that’s Utah, [are] now making a push to convince the former governor, Jon Huntsman, to mount a primary challenge.”
Heard it from a friend, who
Heard it from a friend, who
Heard it from another you’ve been polling around.
That’s not to say that it’s out of the question, but that’s a pretty thin basis for reporting on it. Having a few business activists sponsoring polls isn’t much of a story, especially when no one connected with Huntsman will go on the record to discuss it.
Besides, that would be a strange choice. Lee might not be the most popular Utahan around, but he’s not that unpopular. His favorability ratings took a beating in Utah during the October 2013 government shutdown, but that was seventeen months ago, and will be another year older by the time of the next primary. Furthermore, only 38% of Republicans wanted Lee to compromise in that BYU poll, with 62% wanting Lee to stand on principle even if it meant a shutdown — and it’s Republicans that Lee will have to win in a primary challenge. Lee has spent the last year-plus working at establishing himself as a key conservative thinker rather than as a firebrand — for instance, working with Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley on the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce or eliminate prison time for non-violent crimes, although Reason’s Jacob Sullum prefer the farther-reaching Justice Safety Valve Act.
Huntsman, on the other hand, would have to rebound from being Obama’s handpicked ambassador, and from his largely irrelevant centrist campaign in 2012 to convince Republicans that he’s a born-again conservative that will fight against the Obama/Democratic agenda. That won’t be easy to accomplish in a presidential cycle where grassroots activists will be going at full tilt for the top of the ticket. Most Republicans might wonder why switch?, especially when the GOP nominee would almost certainly win the seat either way, and Lee meets their expectations.
If Huntsman wants to get a seat in the Senate, he’d be better off waiting for Orrin Hatch to retire. That won’t be until at least 2018, but that’s still only three years away, and he’d have plenty of time to organize the effort rather than jump into a primary race on the basis of a couple of push polls now. He’d be 58 years old by the time of that primary, young enough to hold a seat for a few terms — assuming Utahans can trust him to represent them in the same manner Lee has.
Update: Huntsman denied the story and said he wouldn’t challenge Lee. He’s not ruling out another run for office, but won’t run in 2016. Maybe he is eyeing Hatch’s seat after all.