Why is Jon Huntsman running to the political middle?

GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is making statements that appeal to moderate Republicans. Is this a good idea during the primary season?

Cheryl Senter/AP
Republican 2012 presidential hopeful and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman speaks at American Legion Post 3 in Nashua, N.H..

Jon Huntsman is going GOP rogue - by being moderate.

The former Utah governor and US ambassador to China has used his Twitter feed, his appearance on ABC’s Sunday political talk show “This Week,” and a profile in Vogue magazine to take shots at the rest of the GOP presidential primary field.

That’s nothing new for the GOP primary field. What’s unique is that he’s hitting his opponents from the political middle.

It’s telling that the Democratic National Committee blasted out a sort of “greatest hits” e-mail of Huntsman’s ABC interview to supporters, including these nuggets:

  • The minute the Republican Party becomes the party, the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people, who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012 when we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, we take a position that basically runs counter to what” many climate scientists have argued.
  • To a question on trusting Michele Bachmann’s plans for the US economy: “I wouldn’t necessarily trust any of my opponents who are on the recent debate stage with me when every single one of them would have allowed this country to default.”
  • “We have people on the Republican side too far to the right. We have zero substance. We have no good ideas that are being circulated or talking about that allow the country to get back on its feet economically so we begin creating jobs.”

Common wisdom is that Republicans run to the right to win the primaries, and veer to the middle to win the general election. Is Huntsman is being a savvy politician with his tack toward the political middle?

Huntsman’s key races will be New Hampshire and Florida, where social issues aren’t as important and voters are vastly more moderate than the early primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. Even if he doesn’t win the GOP nomination this year, his middle-of-the-road tack could perhaps pay dividends for him in a 2016 presidential race that may not be as influenced by conservative hardliners like the tea party.

What’s the case that Huntsman is off course?

One number: 6 percent. That’s the highest mark Huntsman has polled so far in New Hampshire in any poll, according to RealClearPoliticstracker. In a state that Huntsman may have to win, he’s far behind frontrunner Mitt Romney (who polls roughly a third of voters) and even, in some polls, behind figures (Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani) who haven’t even committed to the race.

The Bottom Line: As other Republican candidates race to the right, Huntsman is now staking out some ground in the political center. But with polls like this one showing 48 percent of Americans think global warming’s effects are exaggerated, the so-called middle ground may not end up being very accommodating for the former Utah governor.

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