Beginning with his presidential campaign announcement speech at Liberty State Park, the former governor's team will try to sell GOP primary voters on an unconventional image
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Let's "play a little game," says former Texas Republican congressman Tom Loeffler. We're gathered in Liberty State Park, a setting made politically famous by Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign kick-off against President Carter. We're here to watch the presidential launch of Jon Huntsman - former Obama ambassador to China, Utah governor, businessman, Mormon missionary, and, after today, a seeming middle-ground choice in the 2012 Republican primary.
What we're playing along with at Loeffler's direction is turning our backs on the Statue of Liberty, towards lawn of the park's Flag Plaza, to witness the Huntsman family making its way over. The crowd is small and placid. It probably represents Huntsman's base at this point: journalists and smattering of supporters. If Flag Plaza is a baseball diamond, the few hundred of us are collected on third base. And we're waiting for the Huntsmans -- Jon, wife Mary Kaye, their passel of children -- to get there. The trip takes about a minute, with the brood stopping to consider a World War II statue of American soldier.
Finally, the Huntsmans arrive. Dreamy country music swells, and the soon-to-be candidate takes the stage. From this podium, Reagan pummeled Carter, calling his record "a litany of despair, of broken promises, of sacred trusts abandoned and forgotten." Huntsman isn't getting into that sort of thing. "I don't think you need to run down someone's reputation in order to run for the office of the president," he says. There's some hints at policy, talk of tax cuts, job creation. But that's not the point. The point is for the world to start to get a good look at Jon Huntsman.
Standing at the back of the plaza as we do is a beaming Fred Davis. If Huntsman's entrance music sounded familiar, it's the Republican media strategist's doing. The custom-made tune is the soundtrack to a trio of curious video clips Davis rolled out over the Internet in the last week to tease this moment. They followed a pattern. "6 Days" showed an actor riding a dirt bike through what's presumably the Utah desert. "Did not become famous with his band 'Wizard,'" reads the on-screen copy, a reference to the high school band that Huntsman dropped out of high school to pursue. "4 Days" has the same scene, with the tagline , "Has seven children, one from India, one from China." And then "Tomorrow," rolled out yesterday: "The candidate who rides motocross to relax." The videos, posted on Vimeo, attracted just 85,000 views in total, and one comment. It's from one "troyeseffigy." It reads simply, "wtf?"
I try to figure out a polite way to put troyeseffigy's question to Davis. Those videos were, um, quirky, I finally manage.
"My call," says Davis, who is known for having produced Carly Fiorina's nearly hallucinatory "Demon Sheep" web video during the 2010 California Senate campaign. There's no avoiding that Huntsman reads mild-mannered, and focusing the videos on his love of motocross, says Davis, made sense because "it was probably the most telling thing about him. That this guy, who was very, very calm, to pick this hobby that's not very calm is very, very interesting," says Davis. "If you went and talked to him, you wouldn't say, 'This is a guy who's a motocross fan.'"
An added benefit is that the Davis spots evoke an idea of Huntsman without serving up much of a target. The Utah Democrats tried, posting a weak parody that reads, "Has reversed positions he took as Governor. Riding away from his record." Huntsman will likely survive the blow.