Huntsman’s future may hinge on his past

CNN Wire Service

Jon Huntsman was out to show off his conservative side. Stepping into the 2012 race surrounded by his family, Huntsman announced his presidential campaign in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, the same spot where Republican icon Ronald Reagan launched his successful 1980 general election run for the White House.

Normally soft-spoken, the former Utah governor issued a stark warning about the future. “We are about to pass down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got. This is totally unacceptable and totally un-American,” Huntsman said.

The past could be just as problematic for Huntsman. It’s no secret some conservatives are troubled by his time as Ambassador to China under President Obama. What’s less well-known are the moderate positions Huntsman took as governor in a series of media roundtable interviews for the public TV station in Salt Lake City.

Back in September 2007, Huntsman told reporters he supported a health care reform plan that included an individual mandate that required his state’s residents to obtain medical insurance.

“I’m comfortable with a requirement,” Huntsman said on the program. “You can call it what you want. But at some point we are going to have to get serious with how we deal with this issue,” he added.

The individual mandate was a key component in President Obama’s health care law and in a similar plan adopted in Massachusetts by one of Huntsman’s rivals, Mitt Romney.

Huntsman pointed out to CNN he eventually signed on to a program that did not include a mandate. “Look at what we passed. It was based on free-market principles,” Huntsman said.

Also on the local PBS program, then-governor Huntsman indicated his support for the stimulus program. “Should we turn down this money? The answer is no,” Huntsman said.

He also signaled his belief that human activity contributes to climate change, a position that irritates many conservatives.

“Climate change is something that is real and one that we must take into account as we develop and implement policies going forward, particularly in the energy sector,” Huntsman said on the PBS program in August 2008.

In his campaign kick-off speech, Huntsman pointed to his record of cutting taxes in Utah. His campaign boasts that Huntsman left office with some of the highest approval ratings in the U.S. for a sitting governor.

His roll-out Tuesday had a few minor glitches. Huntsman’s campaign inadvertently handed out press passes that included a misprint. The candidate’s name was spelled, “John” not “Jon.” A video campaign biography on his new web site suggests a man riding a motorcycle is Huntsman when it is, in fact, not the candidate. For the record, Huntsman is a motorcycle enthusiast.

In the end, Huntsman’s campaign will likely hinge on whether some of his past centrist views, some of which are shared by the President, will be acceptable to tea party conservatives.

Huntsman vows to defend his record with a more civil tone than what voters have witnessed in recent years. The question before voters, Huntsman insists, “is who will be the better President — not who’s the better American.”