Is Jon Huntsman Out Because He's Too Safe?

Jon Huntsman of Utah is the rare governor with foreign policy experience, having served as ambassador to Singapore. Huntsman is the rare governor who leads ...
by | July 11, 2008

Governorhuntsmanheadshot Jon Huntsman of Utah is the rare governor with foreign policy experience, having served as ambassador to Singapore.

Huntsman is the rare governor who leads a state that has avoided most of the nation's economic problems and, for that, he's broadly popular.

Huntsman is the rare governor who knows his way around Washington -- he worked in the Reagan White House and served as deputy trade representative under George W. Bush -- without having been tainted by the place.

Heck, Huntsman is the rare governor who's a bit handsome.

All of which raises a question: Why hasn't Huntsman been mentioned more as a running mate for John McCain?

In fact, Huntsman is an attractive candidate for other reasons too. His positions on issues line up well with McCain. For example, take immigration. Huntsman signed a fairly tough bill this year, after generally hewing a moderate line on the issue. That evolution mirrors McCain's shift on the topic.

Global warming is another example. Huntsman, like McCain, rejects the climate change skeptics in his party. His record on global warming also reflects another possible asset for Huntsman: He has the temperament of a diplomat.

Last year, Huntsman signed up with other governors for the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative. This led the Utah legislature, which includes many global warming doubters, to pass a bill to prohibit the governor from signing interstate pacts without their approval. Huntsman vetoed the bill, then diffused an override attempt by promising to consult with lawmakers before agreeing to future pacts. Showdown averted.

McCain and Huntsman are also personally close. Huntsman endorsed McCain in the primaries, a bold move for a politician from Utah, where Mitt Romney would go on to take 89% of the vote.

So, I repeat, why isn't McCain thinking about this guy as his running mate?

Perhaps McCain is. If not, though, the reason may be that while the risks of picking Huntsman are low, the rewards are low too. Consider what Stuart Rothenberg wrote about a couple of other governors recently:

Sure, plenty of Republicans have been mentioned as possible running mates for the Arizona Republican, but none of them seem particularly helpful to McCain. Most of the frequently mentioned names are white men who most voters haven't heard of.

Govs. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Mark Sanford of South Carolina would probably be fine, but let's face it, neither brings much to McCain. At best, they are "do no harm" nominees.

Most people would yawn at the announcement of either man, and the selection would do little to shake up the existing contours of the presidential contest.

The same holds for Huntsman. The white male governor of Utah, who almost no one outside of Utah knows, is not going to broaden McCain's support.

If there's one thing that would make Huntsman interesting, it's that he's a Mormon. While I don't think that would be a major liability, it would primarily be an asset in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming (the states that percentage-wise have the largest Mormon population), three states that will only be in play if Barack Obama's electoral vote total is approaching 500.

That would be all well and good if McCain was up by five points. He's not. So can McCain risk making a safe pick?

Previously in my vice-presidential series:

Kathleen Sebelius, Haley Barbour, Bill Richardson , Tim Pawlenty , Brian Schweitzer, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin , and Tim Kaine and Ted Strickland .

Nine buzzless governors.

Twenty-eight governors who won't be vice president.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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