Jon Huntsman: Can detailed jobs speech give him a boost in New Hampshire?

As Jon Huntsman struggles to emerge from the shadows of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry with an economic speech in New Hampshire, voters will be given more than the usual amount of detail on his proposals.

Michelle Pemberton/The Indianapolis Star/AP
Republican presidential candidate and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman speaks to a small crowd at the Headquarters for The Indiana State Republican Party in Indianapolis, on Aug. 29.

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is visiting New Hampshire Wednesday to announce his plan for reforming taxes and boosting American jobs.

By issuing more details than his opponents have offered so far, the former Utah governor may get the ear of potential voters. But political analysts disagree on whether he can break out of the shadows of Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

With recent polls showing Mr. Huntsman has only about 1 percent of the primary vote nationwide, the title of his economic speech, “Time to Compete,” seems to apply to his campaign as well. His back-of-the-pack position may open the door for giving voters more detail than they usually see at this stage of the game.

“Ordinarily candidates avoid specificity, because the more details you give ... that raises criticism of individual points ... [but Huntsman] may break that mold a little, because in a way, he doesn’t have a lot to lose,” says Matthew Burbank, a political science professor at the University of Utah.

In a speech at Gilchrist Metal Fabricating in Hudson, N.H., Huntsman “will focus on the need for serious, long-term solutions paired with the removal of regulatory burdens for short-term relief,” says a statement from his campaign.

Huntsman plans to unveil a plan to restructure the tax code by removing all loopholes and deductions; creating tax brackets at 8 percent, 14 percent, and 23 percent; eliminating capital gains and dividends taxes; eliminating the alternative minimum tax; and lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, according to the campaign.

“His message is tailor-made for New Hampshire,” says Dean Lacy, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. It’s a state with no income tax and a lot of fiscally conservative voters.

Middle-class voters will need more details – Would he eliminate the home mortgage deduction? – to see how Huntsman’s plan would play out for them individually, Professor Lacy says.

Since Romney’s support in New Hampshire is wide but not deep, “Huntsman realizes he can take some Romney voters by being more aggressive on the tax issue,” Lacy adds.

When it comes to job creation, Huntsman touts the success of his tenure in Utah, where jobs grew by 8 percent during the years that he and Mr. Romney were both governors. By contrast, jobs in Romney’s Massachusetts grew by just 2 percent during those years, his campaign website notes.

As governor of Utah, he also signed into law a 5 percent flat income tax.

In his speech Wednesday, Huntsman is expected to criticize President Obama (under whom he served as ambassador to China) for his failure to lead on job creation. And he’ll fault his opponents for not taking the country’s problems seriously during the debt crisis.

Huntsman is focusing a lot of energy on New Hampshire, political analysts say, because Iowa and South Carolina, the other early battleground states, are an even bigger uphill battle. Partly that’s because he’s a more moderate Republican, and partly it’s because questions are more often raised in those largely evangelical states about his Mormon background.

While he may not break into the lead in New Hampshire, the top three or four slots matter, and landing there “would take a lot of work, but he has a chance,” Lacy says.

Huntsman is doing everything he can, and it’s smart to offer a jobs plan just ahead of Obama’s expected speech on that issue, but “I’m not sure his message is conservative enough for the New Hampshire electorate this season,” says Jennifer Donahue, a public policy fellow at the Eisenhower Institute in Washington.

Giving speeches at a business is one thing, but “a real key test will be, [Can Huntsman] fill rooms in New Hampshire with voters who want to hear what he has to say?” says Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. “The jury is still out.”

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