Huntsman tries to carve out role as Republicans' centrist ‘truth-teller’

Former Utah. Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) believes he has an opportunity to carve out his position within the GOP primary field as the “truth-teller.”

The former ambassador to China repeatedly has sought to distinguish himself as the relative centrist in the GOP race; he backed the debt-ceiling compromise in Congress when no other candidate did so, and he's been unapologetic about his support for civil-unions for same-sex couples.


Huntsman took it to another level Thursday on Twitter, when, in an implicit jab at Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), Huntsman ribbed skeptics of climate change and evolution within his own party.

“To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy,” he wrote after Perry, campaigning in New Hampshire, had expressed his doubts about both.

Huntsman will have a chance to broaden that message with a national media tour that starts Sunday with an appearance on ABC's “This Week.” On Monday, he sits down with CNN's Piers Morgan.

“He saw an opportunity given some of the things Gov. Perry was saying up in New Hampshire to distinguish himself from Gov. Perry as well as Gov. Romney,” campaign spokesman Tim Miller said of Thursday's tweet.

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The question for Huntsman has always been whether he would be able to mobilize voters in a primary cycle in which conservative fervor runs deep. As the field's relative centrist — Huntsman still considers himself a dyed-in-the-wool conservative — President Obama’s former appointee as the top diplomat in China has sometimes struggled to gain traction with the primary electorate that fears he lacks conservative credentials.

Huntsman will no doubt have another opportunity to court the GOP's non-Tea Party wing in his Sunday interview; he'll almost certainly face a question about the tweet, and have another opportunity to zing competitors, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), with whom Huntsman has fought for position in the key primary state of New Hampshire.

Huntsman has also made a play in the South Carolina primary (He's skipping Iowa), having built an organization there and by recently participating in Rep. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottHow much damage? The true cost of the Senate's coronavirus relief bill Senate unanimously passes T coronavirus stimulus package Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill MORE's (R-S.C.) first presidential town hall. That appearance drew headlines for Huntsman’s duet with Scott of “Hit the Road, Jack,” which was dedicated to Obama.

“The good news is that the candidates are coming to us,” said Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonThe myth about Puerto Rican statehood that won't go away Overnight Defense: Republicans sound alarm on Taliban deal | Trump speaks with Taliban leader | 19 states sue over border wall funding | Pentagon pushes back on NY Times report about coronavirus response House Republicans sound the alarm on Taliban deal MORE (R-S.C.), who had supported former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's (R) presidential bid before Pawlenty withdrew last Sunday.

Huntsman, Wilson said, has “really made significant inroads in the state” and boasts “a great ground team” in South Carolina.

Miller said the campaign also received positive feedback from donors for Huntsman's stances on the debt ceiling and civil unions, a sign his supporters are embracing his relative centrism and don’t see it as a detriment.

“Part of being authentic is telling the truth on issues that aren't to your electoral advantage,” Miller said. “When the opportunities arise to demonstrate he's authentic, he's told the truth.”