A few weeks ago I pooh-poohed the Newsweek scooplet that Jon Huntsman Jr., the Republican former governor of Utah now serving as U.S. Ambassador to China, was seriously contemplating a run for the presidency next year. (As opposed to 2016 or thereafter.) As a refresher, the summary reasons were:
- For Republicans, the problem with Huntsman as ideal leader of a stop-Obama effort is that he is happily working in the Obama Administration even now.
- For Democrats and Independents, the problem with Huntsman as the ideal alternative to Obama is that he'd have to invent, and very soon, some first-order objection to a President and Administration he has happily served through the dark and divisive days until now.
His prospects look bright in the longer term and dim next year. Anything is possible, but why would someone this sophisticated do something this strangely ill-timed?
By contrast, a scooplet yesterday in the Desert News, from Utah, makes much more sense. It shows Huntsman with a big lead over the field in the 2012 race -- for the U.S. Senate seat that Orrin Hatch has held since Gerald Ford was president.*
According to this poll, Huntsman has more support (48%) for the GOP nomination than Hatch (21%) and the young Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz (23%) combined. In Utah, the Republican nominee is a prohibitive favorite to win the seat. Of course, polls don't prove anything this long before an election, and both Chaffetz and Hatch complain (in the story) about the methodology of this particular poll. Still, it illustrates a basically plausible rather than basically crazy idea for which office should be on a "Huntsman 2012" sticker. And as for prospects beyond that, Huntsman can certainly think of precedents for a successful run for the White House four years after first winning a Senate seat.
* Hatch was elected in 1976, when Jimmy Carter beat Ford for the presidency. But members of a new Congressional class are sworn in before a new president is inaugurated, so he started his Senate service while Gerald Ford was still in the White House.