Can Jon Huntsman Shake His Mormon Label?

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The recent Jon Huntsman presidential boomlet has produced plenty of theories about what the former Utah governor is thinking. Here's mine. Most people think someone with Huntsman's moderate positions couldn't capture the Republican nomination, since all the energy in the party right now is on the far right wing. Amid all the theorizing, though, there hasn't been a lot written about Huntsman that has any depth. One of the best pieces is this 2009 New Republic profile by Zvika Krieger. Among other things, it offers an interesting clue to why Huntsman might have moved left when his party was moving to the right:

Huntsman seems to have learned another lesson from the Romney campaign: A Mormon, no matter how conservative, cannot win amongst the right wing of the party--particularly evangelicals. Romney thought he could win their favor by becoming a drum-beating social conservative, underestimating the deep-rooted antipathy many evangelicals have toward Mormons. A recent Pew poll found that 39 percent of evangelicals hold negative views of Mormons--a sentiment Mike Huckabee used against Romney. Though RNC Chair Michael Steele was lambasted last week for saying "the base ... rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism," he wasn't that far off: According to a study by John C. Green and Mark Silk, the size of the evangelical community was one of the best predictors of Romney's success or failure in each state; without the evangelical vote, they argue, Romney probably would have won in four of the five southern states he lost. In light of Romney's experience, the more likely base for Huntsman would have been the moderate wing of the party, which is less concerned with religion in general (and the LDS church specifically).
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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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