Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., looking to jump-start a slumbering presidential campaign, ripped into his Republican rivals Sunday, saying the field has "zero substance" and saving his harshest comments for front-runners Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.
"I wouldn't necessarily trust any of my opponents right now, who were on a recent debate stage with me, when every single one of them would have allowed this country to default," Mr. Huntsman said on ABC's "This Week."
Mr. Huntsman, who has campaigned as a "center-right" candidate, said the other Republican candidates, as well as President Obama, are out of the political mainstream: "Right now, this country is crying out for a sensible middle ground. Right now, we have people on the fringes ... . We have zero substance."
The candidate's dismissal of the Republican field — except for himself — drew immediate applause from the Democratic National Committee, which sent out a mass email Sunday afternoon highlighting the former Utah governor's remarks.
The email, under the heading "Don't take our word for it," broke out several of the most incendiary quotes from the interview.
Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who appeared later on the same program, warned that Mr. Huntsman's decision to go negative could backfire in the upcoming GOP primaries.
"Republicans don't want to hear Republicans attacking other Republicans," Mr. Luntz said.
Mr. Huntsman — who said via Twitter on Thursday that "I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming" — criticized Mr. Perry's skeptical comments last week about global warming.
"The minute the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party ... we find ourselves in a losing position," Mr. Huntsman said. "I think when you find yourself at the extreme end of the Republican Party, you make yourself unelectable."
He slammed Mr. Perry for saying that a third "quantitative easing" for political purposes by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke would be "almost treasonous" and also took a shot at the Texas governor's quips about seceding from the Union.
"I don't know if that's pre-secession Texas or post-secession Texas, but in any event, I'm not sure that the average voter out there is going to hear that 'treasonous' remark and say that sounds like a presidential candidate, that sounds like someone who is serious on the issues," the former Utah governor said.
Mr. Huntsman, who didn't campaign heavily in Iowa and finished near last in the Ames Straw Poll on Aug. 13, was also critical of Mrs. Bachmann's new stump speech, in which the U.S. representative from Minnesota promises to bring gas prices back down to pre-Obama levels.
"Gas prices just aren't going to rebound like that. It simply is not bounded in reality," Mr. Huntsman said.
Mr. Huntsman, who was the Obama administration's ambassador to China before quitting earlier this year to seek the Republican nomination, also went after front-runner Mr. Romney.
"If we talk about inconsistencies and change on various issues, we'd be here all afternoon," he said of the former Massachusetts governor.
Mr. Huntsman brushed aside his poor showing in the recent Ames Straw Poll, where he finished with less than 1 percent of the vote, well behind Mrs. Bachmann, who won with almost 29 percent.
Mr. Huntsman, 51, has been polling under 3 percent in most national polls. But he said his campaign is in good shape and that he expects to be competitive in next year's New Hampshire primary.
"In New Hampshire, they pick presidents; in Iowa they pick something else," he said. "We're going to do well in New Hampshire. I like exactly where we are."
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