Jon Huntsman plans more aggressive race

WASHINGTON Fri Jul 22, 2011 3:59pm EDT

1 of 3. Republican candidate for U.S. President, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, addresses campaign workers and supporters at his national campaign headquarters in Orlando, Florida, in this June 23, 2011 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Scott Audette/Files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Jon Huntsman plans a more aggressive approach on the 2012 campaign trail, boosting his profile and drawing sharper distinctions with rivals in an effort to enliven his sagging presidential bid.

Huntsman, who launched his White House candidacy with great fanfare last month but quickly fell flat, will make more public appearances and be more forceful in his critiques of President Barack Obama and his adversaries for the Republican nomination, spokesman Tim Miller said.

"It's going to be a more intense campaign schedule in the coming weeks as we draw sharper differences with Barack Obama and with our Republican rivals," Miller said Friday.

Miller portrayed the changes as "a natural evolution" from the early introductory phase of the campaign and not a direct result of Huntsman's dismal poll numbers or the lack of buzz about his campaign after his widely anticipated debut.

Huntsman's senior staff met in Washington Friday to discuss strategy, one day after campaign manager Susie Wiles stepped down in a development that drew fresh questions about Huntsman's future in the race.

Huntsman, a former Utah governor with a low national profile, draws poll numbers in the low single digits in a 2012 Republican field that has not drawn much enthusiasm from the party's rank and file. Huntsman served under Obama as U.S. ambassador to China before quitting this year to run for president.

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With former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney holding a fragile lead early in polls, many Republicans are hoping more candidates get in the race for the White House nomination. Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to launch a White House bid in the next few weeks.

Huntsman has been criticized for a low profile on the campaign trail as he met with donors and potential supporters after returning from Beijing at the start of May.

He will step up the pace with a series of speeches in New Hampshire, Washington and Florida in the next week, Miller said, and will campaign heavily in New Hampshire before attending the August 11 Republican debate in Iowa.

Miller said Huntsman, who entered the race with a promise of civility, would be more aggressive in drawing contrasts between his record as governor of Utah and Obama's economic leadership, as well as the records of Romney and other rivals.

"He's going to talk about the record. There is nothing unusual or not civil about that," he said.

Huntsman, a Mormon, faces a difficult path to nomination in an increasingly conservative Republican Party. In addition to his Beijing work for Obama, as governor of Utah he supported same-sex civil unions and a regional cap-and-trade plan for greenhouse gas emissions that was not popular with conservatives.

He is skipping the kickoff nominating contest next February in Iowa, where the state party is dominated by social and religious conservatives, to concentrate on more moderate New Hampshire and sprawling Florida, where his headquarters is based in Orlando.

Miller said there have been no decisions by the campaign about Huntsman's advertising strategy going forward.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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