Jon Huntsman's Secret Campaign Weapon: Dad

The candidate's billionaire father has been opening doors for his son's campaign

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Jon Huntsman's dad is a philanthropist billionaire who holds a prominent position in the Mormon church and is beloved in Utah. But Huntsman Sr. is also reportedly a strong, quiet political force in his son's campaign--to the point where one Republican insider told The Daily Beast that he's "living vicariously through his son because he didn't have the opportunity to serve in public office."

Today at NewsBeast, McKay Coppins and David A. Graham have published their revealing profile of Huntsman Sr., depicting him as a wealthy dad eager to play "a significant role in his son's political rise at every turn—leaning on contacts, calling in favors, and, in several cases, lashing out at those he feels have slighted Jon Jr." Here are a few of the seemingly well-sourced anecdotes we found interesting:

  • Grooming a Candidate: Charting His Son's Meteoric Rise

When Jon Jr. graduated with a degree in international politics, he took a job as a White House staff assistant under President Reagan, for whom his father had been a major fundraiser. When Jon Jr. became the youngest U.S. ambassador in a century at age 29, it was under President George H.W. Bush—for whom Huntsman Sr. served as the Utah campaign chairman in 1988 and 1992. Jon Jr.’s private sector experience, which he regularly touts on the campaign trail, comes from working for his father’s company—first as vice chairman of the board for Huntsman Corporation, and then later as chairman and CEO of Huntsman Family Holdings.

  • In 2004: A Protective Dad on the Governor's Race Campaign Trail

Early in the 2004 gubernatorial primary, Jon Jr. found himself on the receiving end of a fairly benign jab during a debate at Dixie State College. Local businessman and gubernatorial candidate Fred Lampropoulos had accused the younger Huntsman of taking credit for creating jobs that were really the result of his father’s work. Jon Jr. effectively deflected the accusation, recalls one Lampropoulos campaign staffer who was present, but Huntsman Sr. was enraged. According to the staffer, the red-faced father approached Lampropoulos after the debate and “barked” at him: “That was a low blow, Fred! You’re playing dirty!”

  • In 2008: Calculating Endorsements to Please Everyone 

"Before the 2008 presidential primaries, for example, according to a source close to the family, father and son got together and discussed endorsement strategies. They determined that Huntsman Jr. would support John McCain—who was more likely to give him a prominent cabinet post if he won—while Huntsman Sr. would endorse Utah favorite Mitt Romney so as to maintain good relations with the state’s numerous Romney-ites. The apparent disagreement made headlines at the time but, the source says, “It was all calculated."

  • In 2011: Wielding Influence With 'Future Donations'

Huntsman Sr. apparently took offense recently when Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, chose to support Mitt Romney’s campaign instead of lining up with Huntsman. According to two sources with knowledge of the incident, Huntsman Sr.—who has donated $15,000 to the institute every year for a decade and a half—had a supporter deliver the message that he was seriously reconsidering future donations.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.