By Faith Mangan, ,
Published December 23, 2015
Horizon PAC, widely described as a campaign-in-waiting for the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, Jr., is continuing to take shape and fill out. Speculation has been heavy on whether he'll announce a presidential run after he returns to the states. Huntsman is scheduled to leave his post at the end of April.
Today, it is confirmed that Matt David, former deputy chief of staff and communications director for former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration, is coming aboard as a consultant to lead the communications team for the independent non-profit Political Organization, which could eventually morph into a full fledged campaign. David spent time as deputy communications director for Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. And that's interesting because several members of Horizon's matrix have some sort of candidate/Senator McCain thread to their bio. David also served on the Bush-Cheney campaign's rapid response team in 2004.
There have been reports that later this week, Horizon players are scheduled to gather in New Orleans for a strategy session. If it happens, Huntsman would not be part of the huddle; his ambassador post prevents him from doing any sort of campaign work, plus candidates are barred from coordinating with a Political Action Committee such as this one. The Horizon website points out it is technically "Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee". While there is no formal or informal relationship with Huntsman, one of the plugged-in people who is working with Horizon told Fox News recently that he's preparing for and hoping for a run, even though it's not yet officially known what Huntsman himself will decide.
Jon Huntsman, Jr., a Republican from a moneyed Mormon family and former governor of conservative leaning Utah, has been showered with praise (and tongue-in-cheek humor) by team Obama, as he wraps up his diplomatic post. Headlines have even referred to it as the "death hug". Just this past weekend, at the 126th Anniversary Dinner of the Gridiron Club and Foundation (Washington's oldest journalistic organization), President Obama let the wise cracks fly and showed the love for Huntsman, among other contenders. According to the transcript of remarks punctuated by audience laughter, "As his good friends in China might say, he is truly the yin to my yang. And I'm going to make sure that every primary voter knows it." Mr. Obama went on to paint this unlikely, comical visual, for his potential Republican competition: "If you see me on the streets of Nashua, wearing my parka and waving a sign, give me a honk for Huntsman. The next GOP nominee for President. Love that guy."
Last week, when the White House announced Huntsman's diplomatic replacement, the Commander in Chief said, "...Jon has been an outstanding advocate for this administration and for this country." A few days before that, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley emphasized in a televised national interview, "the closeness in which he worked with the President is most appreciated". Huntsman backers have been making hay out of the presidential team's public embrace, pointing out it only elevates Huntsman's profile and the view he's a viable threat, who could appeal to moderates and independents.
Speaking of independents, groundwork is being laid in New Hampshire, home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Huntsman has been receiving invites, but any grassroots organizing effort that's underway is not scheduling him until he returns from overseas and determines what he can do. Activists are being lined up, though. It's confirmed that Peter Spaulding is Horizon's top New Hampshire advisor. And former State Commissioner of Employment Security Richard Brothers has been working the phones to organize key people to help promote Huntsman, according to news reports in the state.
Even though it's a waiting game at this point, people behind the scenes who want to see Huntsman run, are not sitting idly by. The pace of activity is noticeable, despite the fact this rumored candidate is not even back on U.S. soil yet.