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Huntsman: More or Less Than Meets the Eye?

Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Huntsman deals with the issue by emphasizing that the appointment was merely another example of his extensive public service. That explanation might suffice were it not for a number of letters, first disclosed by the Daily Caller, a conservative website, written by Huntsman to Obama in which the ambassador oozes about the president’s leadership and brilliance.

Huntsman’s support for civil unions is also certain to be a problem for many primary voters. While he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, he also argues that “we can go a greater distance in enhancing equal rights for others in nontraditional relationships.”

You can bet, of course, that critics will turn his support for civil unions into support for gay marriage and other gay-rights issues, forcing Huntsman not only to defend himself but to talk more than he’d like about the issue.

Then there is the fact that there is a wealthy, good-looking, Mormon former governor already in the race.

Huntsman will try to distinguish himself from Romney by citing his conservative credentials and opposing an individual mandate on health care reform, but the former Utah governor has waxed eloquent on the importance of putting “a value on carbon,” and he has said that the only way to “get serious” about climate change is with either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.

How’s that going to fly among Republican caucus attendees and primary voters?

There are also plenty of questions about Huntsman as a candidate, as well as about his campaign.

He has run for office twice — for governor in Utah. Running for president is a whole other animal. And Huntsman’s early strategy, which includes taking a pass in Iowa and putting his chips on a strong performance in New Hampshire, raises many questions.

Huntsman certainly has the looks of a president, and you can find a number of YouTube clips in which he looks poised and sounds articulate.

But there are also clips on YouTube, such as his nomination of Sarah Palin for vice president at the 2008 Republican National Convention and his response to a question posed by a Michigan conservative website, when Huntsman’s performance was underwhelming.

Huntsman supporters talk about his electability, but even that is uncertain. Democrats surely would use footage of his Palin nomination speech to make him less appealing to swing voters, and his family’s chemical company could give environmentalists ammunition to use against him.

Republican strategists who aren’t working for Huntsman express mixed views about his campaign. Some treat him seriously, while others are extremely skeptical about his appeal. All are wondering whether he’s serious about not self-funding his bid — or whether his father will set up a super PAC to do so.

Weaver is somewhat controversial, with other consultants saying that he is skilled at planting stories with sympathetic media but pointing to his less than successful work for McCain in 2008.

Davis, on the other hand, is well-liked, and he has done some excellent work going back to the mid-1990s, when I wrote glowingly in this newspaper about his TV ads for Republican James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

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