- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2011

Some pundits and Republican naysayers contend that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is too moderate to win the GOP presidential nomination.

And that’s a claim he denies with vigor and a hint of anger.

During a recent interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Huntsman checked off his accomplishments as Utah governor from 2005 to 2009: making record tax cuts, signing into law the first school voucher program and overseeing the rise of his state’s economy to first-in-the-nation status.

He is confident that the race won’t turn on his religion and downplays whispers from evangelical Protestants who vow not to support a Mormon.

“These presidential nomination contests aren’t about religion; they’re about leadership,” Mr. Huntsman told The Times in the kitchen of his home in Washington’s tony Kalorama neighborhood.

Mr. Huntsman, 51, is proud of his leadership, which he predicts conservatives will respect despite his tenure as President Obama’s ambassador to China and his positive comments about what Republican voters see as an overly liberal president.

“All people have to do is look at the record. Sometimes they don’t, and they just rely on tags,” he said.

“When you look at what we did on record tax cuts, being pro-life and pro-Second Amendment, passing the largest tax cuts in the history of our state. We went to the No. 1 position economically,” he said. “Education reform, the first governor to sign a voucher program, we did it around special education.”

He noted that the Pew Research Center named Utah the “best managed state in America.”

Mr. Huntsman said he won’t stand a chance if voters allow the 2012 Republican presidential nomination to revolve around religion.

“If it’s about religion, I’ll always come up short anyway,” said Mr. Huntsman, a Mormon who until April 30 was Mr. Obama’s hand-picked ambassador to China.

Mr. Huntsman steers conversation away from one of his obvious advantages. If elected, he would be the only U.S. president with an intimate, firsthand knowledge of the culture, language and economy of China, the one country capable of eventually challenging U.S. economic and military supremacy.

He speaks fluent Mandarin and has spent much of his adult life on the communist mainland and in non-communist Taiwan, making a President Huntsman less likely to miss cultural nuances during critical trade and security talks.

But he and chief campaign strategist John Weaver know that few voters choose the nation’s chief executive on the basis of China planks, or foreign policy generally. Instead, he said, he will run on what former governors normally do — his record as a manager of a state — at a time when the nation is in dire need of successful management.

Mr. Huntsman declined to reveal his money-raising target for the end of this year, though he did say, “If the money comes in, it will be because we have a message of leadership people want. If we don’t raise the money, then we’re not on a winning trajectory.”

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