Jon Huntsman's father is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for an ad campaign in New Hampshire in a last-ditch attempt to save his son's presidential campaign.
Jon Huntsman Sr. is a billionaire chemical executive and a supporter of the super PAC Our Destiny. Jon Huntsman Jr. is the former governor of Utah and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and wealthy himself, but he has been unable to compete with his primary opponents in terms of fundraising.
Huntsman Jr. has apparently been struggling to decide whether to accept financial help from his father. He told reporters earlier this year that he couldn't win unless he could raise enough money for a viable campaign himself. But at this point, the super PAC is his only real option.
If the Our Destiny ads can lift Huntsman to a respectable showing in the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10, that could give his campaign the boost it needs to attract money from donors who like Huntsman's platform but don't see him as a viable candidate. If he followed that up with a strong finish in Florida on Jan. 31, he could make himself a real contender.
But that is a best-case scenario. A more likely result would be a middling finish in New Hampshire -- better than he would have done without the new ad campaign, but not enough to lift him into the first tier of candidates.
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Huntsman is polling significantly better in New Hampshire than he is nationally -- his RealClearPolitics.com average in the Granite State is 6 percent, tied for fourth place with Newt Gingrich, while his national average is 1.3 percent -- but he needs a lot more than that to give him momentum going into the rest of the primary season.
New Hampshire and Underdogs
New Hampshire has a history of voting for underdog candidates. At this point in the 2008 campaign, Mitt Romney was 14 points ahead of Rudy Giuliani and 17 points ahead of John McCain, but McCain ended up winning. Huntsman has cited that as evidence that he can claw his way to the top of the polls -- but McCain did not start out nearly as low in the polls as Huntsman is. He had 15.8 percent in mid-November 2007, and he never fell below third place.
Huntsman is hoping that his post-partisan message will go over better in New Hampshire than in other early voting states like Iowa and South Carolina, which are dominated by socially conservative voters.
He is trying to cast himself as the best of all worlds: someone with strong conservative principles who can still work productively across the aisle, who has enough experience and broad-based appeal to beat President Barack Obama, and who knows what he believes and won't change his talking points for political gain.
At the end of the day, when you dismiss the artificiality of politics and the temporary headlines, you're left with a candidate and a message, he told Reuters. And either that combination is able to penetrate the soul of the voter, or not.
The ad campaign pulls no punches against Obama. One ad says bluntly, The president's failed. The economy is worse. The stock market's a wreck. Are we the next Greece? Our government is flabby, bloated and weak. Health care reform? Toss it. Got a job? Sure you'll have it next week?
It also includes some thinly veiled jabs at Huntsman's opponents.
The world is literally collapsing and no one has shown up who we can trust as a conservative, who actually has a chance to win, and not some phony who tells me one thing and you another, a voter says in one of the ads. Where is that guy?
As a super PAC, Our Destiny is not bound by traditional campaign fundraising limits so long as it isn't formally associated with Huntsman, and it doesn't have to disclose its donors until Jan. 31. These groups were made legal by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that corporations have a First Amendment right to advertise for or against candidates if they are not associated with those candidates.
Super PACs are shaping up to be a potent force in the 2012 elections, as President Obama and seven of his Republican opponents have at least one. Some candidates, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, have multiple super PACs.