Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Men's Journal, the American Prospect, and, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndyKroll.

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Jon Huntsman's Billionaire Dad Won't Commit to More Campaign Cash

| Wed Jan. 11, 2012 12:03 AM EST
Jon Huntsman.

Soon after the news networks confirmed Jon Huntsman's third-place finish in New Hampshire's primary, Huntsman strode onto the stage at a Manchester bar to address his supporters. Huntsman's family joined him, including a elderly man integral to the future of Huntsman's campaign: his billionaire father, Jon Huntsman Sr.

A powerful chemical titan, Jon Sr. has played a key role supporting his son's candidacy. He helped finance a super-PAC called Our Destiny that's spent $2.1 million so far backing Huntsman Jr. And going forward, the only person likely to give the Huntsman campaign the kind of financial jolt it needs to stay alive is Jon Sr..

On Tuesday night, I twice asked Huntsman Sr. if he planned to step in and support his son's campaign going forward. Both times he dodged the question before security personnel led him into a waiting car. Here's our brief exchange:

AK: I was just wondering about the Our Destiny super-PAC. Do you plan to support it or support your son's campaign? Any comment on that going forward?

JH: Oh, I think he's just done a great job tonight. We love him very much.

AK: Do you think you'll continue supporting him financially going forward, sir?

JH: [Pauses and smiles.] Thank you. Thank you very much.

Here's the audio:

Jon Huntsman Sr. on funding his son"s campaign (mp3)

At the event, Huntsman Jr. announced he would continue his bid for the White House, heading now to South Carolina, which holds its presidential primary on January 21. "I'd say third place is a ticket to ride," Huntsman told the crowd. "Hello, South Carolina!"

South Carolina's primary fight is shaping up to be a bruising battle, with campaigns and super-PACs spending more on ads there than in New Hampshire. The New York Times reported Tuesday that 2,800 campaign ads had appeared in New Hampshire compared to 5,500 in South Carolina. Much of ad spending will come from super-PACs, like the pro-Romney Restore Our Future group and pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future.

Huntsman will have to duke it out on the airwaves as well if hopes to compete in South Carolina. But for now, his bankrolling dad doesn't sound too enthusiastic about injecting more of his wealth into the fight.

Houston, We've Reached Peak Huntsman

| Tue Jan. 10, 2012 11:27 AM EST

Gage Skidmore/FlickrGage Skidmore/Flickr

It was a homecoming, of sorts. On the eve of the New Hampshire presidential primary, Jon Huntsman returned to the Exeter Old Town Hall Monday night for his final rally in this state. Huntsman had launched his campaign in Exeter back in June, but the two events couldn't have been more different. This summer, as Huntsman recalled, "a few people" showed up for his Exeter launch, an indifferent crowd with "a look of disbelief." And why wouldn't they have? Huntsman was an ex-diplomat, just returned from years in China, unknown to most anyone outside Utah.

Fast forward more than 170 public events, and the hall shook with excitement Monday. Reporters and cameras crowded into the upper balcony; before speaking, Huntsman did interviews with the popular talking heads Greta van Susteren of Fox News and CNBC's Larry Kudlow. Then, as the hundreds of supporters jammed into the 157-year-old hall grew restless, Huntsman and wife Mary Kaye emerged. The crowd roared with approval. Both Huntsmans looked at ease at the center of it all, more comfortable than they have in the past week. Mary Kaye led with a genuine, heartfelt, and—most important of all—brief introduction, and then Huntsman took control. The crowd hung on his every word.

"Ladies and gentlemen, can you feel a little bit of momentum in the air?" he exclaimed. "Can you feel the energy out there, ladies and gentlemen?" When he finished, duel confetti guns went off, raining down flakes of red and white and blue. U2's "Beautiful Day" filled the hall.

Huntsman is peaking at just the right time. A recent American Research Group poll showed him in second place in New Hampshire, surpassing Ron Paul, while others show him further back but still surging.

Yet there was an inescapable feeling in Exeter that this is as good as it gets for Jon Huntsman. This is Peak Huntsman.

Here's why. Huntsman has staked his entire campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire; anything less than second place and poof, all of his momentum here in the Granite State is gone. A second-place finish behind Mitt Romney, not unlike Rick Santorum's near-win in Iowa, could bring in some much-needed donations to help him compete in South Carolina, the next primary fight. But even then, Huntsman's prospects are dim.

Huntsman has little, if any, campaign infrastructure in South Carolina—or anywhere else, for that matter—and notched 1 percent there in a recent CNN/Time poll. That's not surprising: Huntsman's more moderate positions on social issues don't appeal to South Carolina Republicans in the same way they do to New Hampshire voters. "Jon Huntsman's profile as the most liberal candidate in the field really limits his growth potential and makes him very unlikely to gain any meaningful traction," South Carolina pollster Jon Lerner told the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. And at any rate, Huntsman doesn't have time for 170 events in South Carolina to win over skeptics. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has campaign operations in almost every state, and leads in South Carolina polls.

Even before primary day, there were reminders of Huntman's limits. National Journal reported Monday night that Huntsman failed to qualify for the ballot in Arizona due to a "notary issue." (The campaign says it will challenge the state's decision.)

This isn't to say it's impossible for Huntsman to defy political logic. He could, in theory, inject millions of his own money to keep his campaign alive after new Hampshire. Or his billionaire dad, Jon Huntsman Sr., could step up with a six-figure check to keep Huntsman 2012 or a pro-Huntsman super-PAC chugging along. And that could put enough fuel into Huntsman's tank to keep him alive through South Carolina's primary on January 21 or Florida's at the end of the month.

Barring a minor miracle, however, it's hard to see how Huntsman's campaign survives for much longer, much less generates the kind of support seen here in New Hampshire. The scene inside the Old Town Hall, then, was a glimpse at what might've been, but ultimately was not, for Jon Huntsman.

Mitt Romney: "I Started at the Bottom" at Bain and Company

| Mon Jan. 9, 2012 3:20 PM EST
Mitt Romney

On Sunday, Mitt Romney said he knew the pain felt by Americans on the brink of unemployment. "I know what it's like to worry whether you're going to get fired," he said. "There were a couple of times I wondered if I was going to get a pink slip." But when pressed by the New York Times later that day, the Romney campaign couldn't come up with a single occasion when Romney thought he'd actually get the pink slip.

A day later, at a factory in Hudson, Romney was asked for specifics on his pink slip claim. He replied, "I came out of school and I got an entry level position, and like anybody who starts at the bottom of an enterprise, you wonder when you don't do so well, whether you're going to be able to hang onto your job."

Here's his full response:

"Well, as you probably know in your profession, you never quite know what's gonna happen. And I think people imagine that I came in at the top of Bain and Company, the consulting firm, or the Boston Consulting Group. I started at the bottom.

"I came out of school and I got an entry level position, and like anybody who starts at the bottom of an enterprise, you wonder when you don't do so well, whether you're going to be able to hang onto your job and you wonder if the enterprise gets in trouble, will you be one of those that's laid off. That's what happened to a lot of people around the country today and it breaks your heart to see people lose their jobs. Like anybody else in the private sector knows, there's some prospect that you might lose your job."

To be clear, accounts of Romney's rise at Boston Consulting Group and Bain and Company (not be confused with Bain Capital, the private equity firm he was tapped to lead) don't quite depict him as a Horatio Alger-type. His story is certainly a far cry from that of, say, Lewis Ranieri, the legendary investor who started at Solomon Brothers in the mailroom. Romney was a prized commodity coming out Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, and succeeded right out of the gate at both BCG and Bain.

The question is, will voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere sympathize with Romney's claim that he feared the pink slip at BCG and Bain? Or will they chalk it up as the usual faux populism spouted all too often on the campaign trail?

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