Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and outgoing US ambassador to China, is inching toward an official run for the White House in 2012. In the latest news out of Huntman's camp, Politico's Mike Allen reports today that the ambassador's political action committee, Horizon PAC, has beefed up its staff to 12, and plans to announce organizers in key primary and caucus states.
To win over fellow Republicans, Horizon PAC will begin doling out donations to local and state-level Republican candidates—a common practice among presidential hopefuls and other top lawmakers. And earlier this month, 18 of Huntman's lieutenants huddled in New Orleans to plot Huntsman's strategies on fundraising, research, communications, and more. Of course, Huntsman himself can't have a role in any of this planning until he officially concludes his ambassadorship at the end of April. But when he does return to the States, he'll have a campaign in a box awaiting him.
Here's more from Allen:
A Horizon strategist told Playbook that the PAC has already been very successful in fundraising, even before holding major events. The strategist said Huntsman, known for his moderate stands on the environment and gay rights, is as “as conservative as anybody in the field"—fiscally conservative and anti-abortion.
The campaign-in-waiting is being masterminded from Texas by John Weaver, who helped make Sen. John McCain a household name, and is a strategist known for winning outside the conventional playbook.
One sticking point for a Huntsman candidacy will be his tenure in the Obama administration. In recent months, the president and his aides have heaped praised on Huntsman, as well as likely 2012 candidate Mitt Romney, in what some have dubbed a death-by-kindness strategy. As Obama once quipped, "I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary."
But Huntsman's strategists are already testing out messages to counteract the poisonous praise of a Democratic administration. As the Associated Press reports, "On Huntsman's link to Obama, they say Huntsman was serving his country, not a partisan administration, and he would be the best positioned to go head-to-head against his former boss." Selling that message, and more generally winning over conservative primary voters with a more moderate candidate, will prove the toughest task for Team Huntsman.