Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. is not officially in the presidential race, but as the Republican faces heavy speculation about his future, he has been getting lots of press that repeatedly refers to him as a moderate, working for the Obama administration. Now, just weeks from returning to the states to weigh a decision and with an independent shadow campaign standing at the ready, groundwork is being laid to counter potentially damaging early perceptions and tout Huntsman's conservative street cred.
Rob Wasinger who served as campaign manager for Kanas Governor Sam Brownback's 2008 Republican presidential campaign tells Fox News, he is "joining the crew... of people asking Jon Huntsman to run this cycle." Wasinger says: "I've been talking with conservatives all week and want to... let them know who Jon Huntsman is and talk about his record. I've been actively reaching out to a lot of conservatives, a lot of the friends who I have worked with over the years to advance the conservative cause in Washington and elsewhere."
Wasinger, who now runs a consulting business, took a look at the likely 2012 presidential candidates and for him, it's "actual record of service" that matters: "Everybody has their talking points. Everybody says they are conservative. People need a way to separate out fact from fiction." He cited the former Utah governor's signatures on pro-life and school vouchers legislation, plus the state's tax cuts and economic growth, adding "he brings fiscal and social conservatives together in a real way".
Huntsman's history in his home state of Utah is fast becoming a familiar talking point. Earlier this week, Senator John McCain was quoted by The Salt Lake Tribune, as saying about his friend, "...he was the an extremely popular governor of a conservative state." This closely mirrors what a Republican strategist who supports Huntsman, told Fox News last week: "Without even entering the race, Huntsman's solid conservative credentials as an effective two-term governor in one of the reddest states in the country clearly has... (some) frightened." When asked for reaction to early knocks on Huntsman that have even come from within the Republican party, Wasinger says other candidates are "probably pretty concerned" and "might even be ashamed" of their own records. "Jon Huntsman is a conservative. Anybody that questions that just needs just to look at his record as governor. You know... other candidates that are running, that have had similar service as governor of their states and yet they don't have a track record as being a conservative. So, I mean, it's important to kind of get through all the hype and name calling."
Buzz rose this week that Huntsman could put off a run until 2016. Wasinger hopes the wait doesn't stretch that long, "I think we need Jon Huntsman *right now*. We need somebody... that has skills, the ability, the proven track record and that can beat Obama." He doesn't see service in the Obama administration as a drawback, because of Huntsman's experience. And Wasinger added he thinks contrasts can be drawn between what the two leaders have done on healthcare.