Monday, January 26, 2009
Jon Huntsman For President In 2012? The Republican Utah Governor Enjoys A Stratospheric 90 Percent Approval Rating, According To Pollster Dan Jones
If Republicans are looking for a new face to recharge a moribund party in 2012, they may well look to the Beehive State. For it is Utah that has the prospective Presidential candidate who has the popularity of a Sarah Palin without the attendant populist baggage.
And right now, you can't get more popular than Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. On January 26th, 2009, the Deseret News reports that a new Dan Jones poll shows that 90 percent of Utahns approve of the job Huntsman is doing as governor. In recent Utah history, that number was equaled only by Governor Mike Leavitt in 1996, and nationally, is higher than the numbers enjoyed by Palin during her salad days in 2007 and early 2008.
In response, Huntsman said he is humbled and honored to have such approval from Utahns. "It's great to have the people's support, which only helps to reinforce your own sense of direction, particularly in such a critically important time in our state's history". Huntsman further stated that he has never shied away from taking on politically difficult issues and has not tried to just stay popular. The 90 percent rating "goes to show that our policy barometer is consistent with that of the public, which is always good news when you are trying to move the state forward, particularly in areas that sometimes are a bit controversial."
And the state legislature is getting a bump from Huntsman's numbers as well. The poll also shows that 64 percent of Utahns approve of the job that the state's lawmakers are doing. But the popularity of both the executive and legislative branches will be seriously tested in upcoming weeks as they grapple with a shortfall in tax revenue necessitating reductions in many state programs. The drop of $266 million in tax collections during the first six months of this fiscal year will require the adoption of a new spending plan to implement the cuts, and thousands of state workers could be laid off as a result.
In addition, the legislature will be dealing with some other contentious issues, such as the Common Ground Initiative, reform of the state's antediluvian liquor laws, ethics reform, and even short bowel syndrome.
When asked by Dan Jones how they felt about Congress' performance, only 41 percent of Utahns expressed approval of the job Congress is doing. However, an earlier Dan Jones poll showed strong approval of the members of Utah's Congressional delegation. On January 23rd, the Deseret News reported that Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson's approval rating was 87 percent, while ratings for the four Republicans in the delegation were: Sen. Orrin Hatch, 71 percent; Sen. Bob Bennett, 68 percent; Rep. Rob Bishop, 62 percent; and freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, 45 percent, although 42 percent were still undecided about Chaffetz since he's just beginning the first of what could be many terms to come. Personally, I'm a bit surprised at Orrin Hatch's high ratings; his main claim to fame recently is that he's been holding Ted Kennedy's hand.
Huntsman's stratospheric popularity rating will undoubtedly rekindle speculation about his Presidential ambitions. Such talk has surfaced in the past, although Huntsman himself has deflected it, saying that he's just focused on finishing his current term as Governor, to which he was authoritatively re-elected in 2008, miraculously turning back the challenge of the incomparable Super Dell Schanze. In December 2008, KVNU reported that the Washington Post considers Huntsman a Republican star on the rise, calling him the "Next Big Thing". According to NPR, Huntsman believes the Republican Party needs to adjust to the changing demographic, but to do so without pandering.
But what about Romney? Both Huntsman and Romney are Mormons. However, Romney brought some additional baggage to the table. He not only developed a reputation as a flip-flopper, earning criticism from the Right, but also put off his peers by a "patrician" attitude. In contrast, Huntsman has a rock-solid reputation as a straight shooter, and brings a professional demeanor to the table. Because Romney wore the hair shirt and broke down the doors for Mormons, Huntsman's Mormonism would not be nearly the stumbling block that it was for Romney.
Professionalism is something that the other prospective contender, Sarah Palin, simply cannot muster. Palin is an authentic salt-of-the-earth American woman; a first class wife and mother. But she's simply not Presidential, no matter how hard she tries. A rah-rah sis-boom-bah Wasilla Warrior cheerleader-type simply does not make for a credible Presidential candidate, although she'd make a great running mate for Huntsman. A good running mate should be able to function as a "hit man" or "hit lady" to energize the base and keep the principal "above the fray".
But what really impressed me about Jon Huntsman is that he had the balls to declare for John McCain in a state that had given its political heart to Mitt Romney. And his decision did NOT cost him any popularity at all. This means people recognized it as a principled decision based upon apparent merit. Of course, considering McCain's abysmal one-foot-in-the-grave campaign performance, Huntsman may have had second thoughts. But his decision illustrates that he can make tough decisions and swim against the tide without polarizing people.
And that's who we need as the Republican standard bearer in 2012.