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It’s not Jon Huntsman’s year.
At least that’s the opinion of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican who served as Huntsman’s chief of staff when he was governor of Utah.
Chaffetz, a 44-year-old conservative firebrand, has endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, so it’s not surprising that he would not predict a Huntsman victory over Romney in the 2012 GOP presidential primary. But Chaffetz, saying the primary is now a two-man race between Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said he thinks Huntsman might be too moderate overall to win the Republican contest. Others have said Huntsman was the most liberal governor Utah ever had.
“He’s much more moderate and centrist on certain issues. And he’s as conservative as they get on others. He’s as pro-life as you can possibly be. He’s more centrist on cap-and-trade. It’s a mixed bag, and voters have to decide where they are,” said Chaffetz, who won his House seat in 2008 after ousting a moderate Republican in the primary. “I think Jon Huntsman will be a viable personality into the future.”
Chaffetz was Huntsman’s campaign manager for his first gubernatorial bid in 2004 and then served a brief time as chief of staff in his administration. Huntsman left the governor’s office in 2009 to accept President Barack Obama’s appointment to become ambassador to China and then resigned that post in the spring to run for president.
Although he has assembled an experienced campaign team and picked up some notable GOP endorsements, including from former Homeland Security Secretary and ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge on Friday, Huntsman is mired in the low single digits in national polls gauging the preference of Republican primary voters. Huntsman registered 1.4 percent in the RealClearPolitics average as of Friday afternoon. Perry was in first with 31 percent, followed by Romney at 20 percent.
Chaffetz’s backing of Romney makes sense, as the former Massachusetts governor remains popular in Utah because of his Mormon faith and because of successful management of the 2002 Salt Lake City winter Olympic Games. Sen. Orrin Hatch, who Chaffetz considered challenging in the 2012 GOP Senate primary, has also endorsed Romney. Freshman Sen. Mike Lee, another alum of Huntsman’s gubernatorial administration, has not endorsed in the race.
Chaffetz said Romney is the Republican candidate best positioned to beat Obama.
“I think you’ll see Jon Huntsman will come out with his integrity, his reputation intact. It usually takes a couple of generations of elections to be considered a tier-one candidate,” the Congressman said. “I think at this point it’s essentially become a two-person race, and the Republicans will have to sort out which one of the two.”