Jon Huntsman launches bid for President

Huntsman offers an optimistic pitch, but his religion and links to Obama could hurt him in the prima

Jon Huntsman has declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination. Against a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, the former US ambassador to China made his announcement to a smallish crowd of supporters and curious passers-by. His pitch, overall, was optimistic. "I'm from the American west, where the view of America is limitless with lots of blue sky," he declared.

Huntsman pointed to his record as Governor of Utah and - like Romney did in his first two campaign adverts - focused on the US's persistently high unemployment, which will undoubtedly play a major role in 2012.

We must reignite the powerful job creating engine of our economy - the industry, innovation, reliability, and trailblazing genius of Americans and their enterprises -- and restore confidence in our people.

We did many of these things in Utah when I was governor. We cut taxes and flattened rates. We balanced our budget. Worked to maintain our AAA bond rating. When the economic crisis hit, we were ready. And by many accounts we became the best state for business and the best managed state in America. We proved government doesn't have to choose between fiscal responsibility and economic growth. I learned something very important as Governor. For the average American family there is nothing more important than a job.

Unlike his fellow candidates during the first proper Republican debate, Huntsman did not attack Obama directly. The two have had many kind words to say about each other in the past. After one bout of praise, Obama sarcastically remarked:

I'm sure him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.

To deal with this potential issue, however, Huntsman has pitched his candidacy as a civil one, one that will attempt to avoid cheap jibes.

I don't think you need to run down anyone's reputation to run for President. Of course we'll have our disagreements. I respect my fellow Republican candidates. And I respect the President. He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who's the better American.

Whether this will continue for long during the primaries - who will want to hear Obama's name kicked and spat upon by potential candidates - remains to be seen.

Huntsman's good relationship with Obama is not his only disadvantage, however. Like Romney, Huntsman is a Mormon candidate, which puts off many American voters - 22 per cent, in fact. Huntsman also starts with very low name recognition, according to the Gallup poll below.

Gallup, 21 June

Not even the right-wing press are that interested in him, according to Politico.

For all the attention Huntsman's gotten from the MSM, his profile in the conservative press has been considerably more muted. Unlike other potential Republican candidates, Huntsman didn't get cover stories in the Weekly Standard or National Review. Fox has mostly ignored him. He's taken some heat from talk radio, but far less than you might expect for a GOP candidate coming out of the Obama administration.

This will change in the first few weeks, but it could be difficult to gain traction without resorting to the cheap "money blurts" favoured by Michelle Bachmann and co.

On the whole, however, Huntsman is a credible candidate with a strong domestic record and - just as importantly - a vat of foreign policy experience, which he concentrates on in his first campaign video. He is a real contender in a Republican race sadly lacking in truly strong candidates. His entry will do the Republican race the world of good.

Watch his full speech below.

 

Dan Kitwood/Getty
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I believe only Yvette Cooper has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy Corbyn

All the recent polling suggests Andy Burnham is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy Corbyn, says Diana Johnson MP.

Tom Blenkinsop MP on the New Statesman website today says he is giving his second preference to Andy Burnham as he thinks that Andy has the best chance of beating Jeremy.

This is on the basis that if Yvette goes out first all her second preferences will swing behind Andy, whereas if Andy goes out first then his second preferences, due to the broad alliance he has created behind his campaign, will all or largely switch to the other male candidate, Jeremy.

Let's take a deep breath and try and think through what will be the effect of preferential voting in the Labour leadership.

First of all, it is very difficult to know how second preferences will switch. From my telephone canvassing there is some rather interesting voting going on, but I don't accept that Tom’s analysis is correct. I have certainly picked up growing support for Yvette in recent weeks.

In fact you can argue the reverse of Tom’s analysis is true – Andy has moved further away from the centre and, as a result, his pitch to those like Tom who are supporting Liz first is now narrower. As a result, Yvette is more likely to pick up those second preferences.

Stats from the Yvette For Labour team show Yvette picking up the majority of second preferences from all candidates – from the Progress wing supporting Liz to the softer left fans of Jeremy – and Andy's supporters too. Their figures show many undecideds opting for Yvette as their first preference, as well as others choosing to switch their first preference to Yvette from one of the other candidates. It's for this reason I still believe only Yvette has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy and then to go on to win in 2020.

It's interesting that Andy has not been willing to make it clear that second preferences should go to Yvette or Liz. Yvette has been very clear that she would encourage second preferences to be for Andy or Liz.

Having watched Andy on Sky's Murnaghan show this morning, he categorically states that Labour will not get beyond first base with the electorate at a general election if we are not economically credible and that fundamentally Jeremy's economic plans do not add up. So, I am unsure why Andy is so unwilling to be clear on second preferences.

All the recent polling suggests Andy is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy. He trails fourth in London – where a huge proportion of our electorate is based.

So I would urge Tom to reflect more widely on who is best placed to provide the strongest opposition to the Tories, appeal to the widest group of voters and reach out to the communities we need to win back. I believe that this has to be Yvette.

The Newsnight focus group a few days ago showed that Yvette is best placed to win back those former Labour voters we will need in 2020.

Labour will pay a massive price if we ignore this.

Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Hull North.