Huntsman impresses GOP heavyweights in key early primary state
May 7th, 2011
06:28 PM ET
12 years ago

Huntsman impresses GOP heavyweights in key early primary state

Columbia, South Carolina (CNN) - Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman told a room of South Carolina Republicans on Saturday that he could finalize his thinking about the GOP presidential race before the month is out, multiple sources present for the closed-door meeting told CNN.

One of those in the room, state Rep. Alan Clemmons, tweeted during the meeting that Huntsman said he "will be deciding over the next two to three weeks whether there is critical mass" to mount a White House campaign.

That account was confirmed to CNN by four other Republicans invited to the meeting.

Clemmons, who backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during his 2008 presidential bid, was one of roughly 40 influential Republican leaders and donors in the key early primary state invited to meet Huntsman at the Palmetto Club in downtown Columbia.

A roster of state GOP heavy-hitters showed up for the confab, including state Ports Authority Chairman Bill Stern, Attorney General Alan Wilson, former Attorney General Henry McMaster, House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, state Sen. John Courson, Columbia attorney Kevin Hall and Palmetto Family Council President Oran Smith. Huntsman also met privately with Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday.

Huntsman convened the Saturday meeting after delivering a morning commencement speech at the University of South Carolina, his first public appearance since returning from Beijing to explore a potential Republican presidential bid.

Before the meeting, Huntsman and his wife lunched with one of the state's top legislators, state House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

He also revealed to a handful of Republicans that he dined with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a fellow rock music enthusiast and potential presidential contender, earlier this week in New York.

And Huntsman will have dinner next week with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an aide confirmed to CNN.

Huntsman focused his remarks on his family, his tenure in China and his accomplishments as governor of Utah and received glowing reviews from several Republicans in the room, who spoke anonymously because they did not want to be named discussing a private meeting.

"The consensus was, 'Holy crap this guy looks like a president,'" said one person who was there. "I have never seen anybody sweep into this state so quickly so fast and get as much accomplished in 48 hours as Huntsman has done."

Huntsman is being advised by several veteran political operatives who managed Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, but many of those at the meeting supported opposing candidates during the last presidential race, including Romney, Huckabee and former Sen. Fred Thompson.

Huntsman, it seems, managed to make a good impression among those still looking for a candidate to support in 2012.

"From my conversations with a few others in attendance and glances around the room, his remarks were well-received," another Republican source told CNN. "One person who had never met him before remarked, 'I liked him better than anyone I've seen.'"

Filed under: 2012 • Jon Huntsman • South Carolina
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. me

    Huntsman's campaign motto will be "I'm not the tool the other guys are and even Obama likes me."

    May 7, 2011 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  2. Randy, San Francisco

    Palin, Trump, Barbour, and Bachmann set the stage for Huntsman. After the opening act of the clowns and court jesters, Huntsman appeared very serious and presidential in his speech at U. of South Carolina. Was this primary political play scripted beforehand?

    May 7, 2011 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  3. annie s

    It doesn't take much to impress the people of South Carolina, home of some of the looniest politicians and one of the poorest and most backward states in the nation. Hardly a great endorsement.

    May 7, 2011 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  4. Dale

    Huntsman is one of the few realistic, qualified Republican candidates. However, the average Repulican doesn't want a reasonable, calm, cool, and thoughtful guy like Huntsman. They want to nominate an impulsive, brash, cowboy like GWB. They want someone so decisive that they don't think before deciding. If there was any doubt that Republicans don't care for critical thought, one only need to look at the birther polls. 43% of all Republicans are birthers, according to a CNN poll. The fact that 43% of Republicans have fallen for a ludicrous, hateful, obviously made-up to slander Obama conspiracy theory tells me that Republicans have a serious disconnect with reality. As an independent voter, I have a hard time taking Republicans seriously after the birther thing, the GWB thing, and the Palin-is-our-nominee thing. Sadly, there is only one credible political party in the US now.

    May 7, 2011 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  5. Roscoe

    Going to be tough for Huntsman to face a great leader in the general election. Maybe a Huntsman/Romney ticket where Huntsman can compliment Obama and Romney can compliment Obamacare.

    May 7, 2011 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  6. steph in TX

    This would be more impressive if the competition wasn't bunch of loons to begin with.

    May 7, 2011 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  7. California Conservative

    The whole difference here with CNN is that when they talk about the democrats they put them on a pedestal while talking about anyone else they just put them down. The left stream media, quite pathetic and that's being nice.

    May 7, 2011 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  8. Billy davis

    "The consensus was, 'Holy crap this guy looks like a president,'" Subliminal message, he's white.

    May 7, 2011 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  9. Proud to be an Independent !

    Traitor !!! Regardless of party affiliation , you don't run against the man that gave you a job ! That is disloyal and disgusting and not a good trait to have for someone that has aspiration's on our nation's highest office ! All this man's action's do is scream that Huntsman is not a man who can be trusted ! Benedict Arnold comes to mind !

    May 7, 2011 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  10. GOP = Greed Over People

    Since the shrub and the GOP sold us to China, it is good that he has a good relationship with them.

    May 7, 2011 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  11. normajean

    Jon Huntsman, former Ambassador to China, is at this point a total unknown to the average voter. If he seriously plans to become a Presidential candidate, I think it would be wise to get a running start with background information.. The current hopefuls are a mixed bag of second rate politicians with very little to their credit. . If Ambassador Huntsman is to be a viable candidate, being advised by the operatives who worked on the McCain campaign, he best be very careful of their choice for his running mate.!!!!!!

    May 7, 2011 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  12. Not Remotely Feasible

    'GOP Heavyweights' – You're talking large in girth, right? Because a heavyweight in an irrelevant party, would make them..extraordinarily worthless. Clearly – either way – it doesn't matter what they think because Huntsman doesn't have a chance nationally anyway.

    CNN – the midlands region of South Carolina where Huntsman is campaigning voted decidedly for Obama in '08. Where are the details on that in your article. Why was it left out?

    May 7, 2011 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  13. Bill

    It's not hard to understand Jon Huntsman's appeal, especially considering the otherwise dismal crop of current GOP candidates for POTUS.

    May 7, 2011 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  14. Clwyd

    He impresses because the rest of the republicans are so lack-lustered. However, he is just the same old republican zombie that looks nice, but says the same old programed words!

    May 7, 2011 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    Jon Huntsman is a candidatre with presidential characteristics. Smart, experienced, intelligent and articulate. He seems to be a rationaland civil man, too sad he has all the wing nuts (GOP Nazis) to deal with. It will be interesting to see who the independent and moderate voters detest more, the right wing nuts or the lefties. If he gets nominated in the primaries the Dems would be well advised to give full and undivided support to the moderate position president Obama is pursuing, or they might lose the presidency too..

    May 7, 2011 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  16. Bob in Pa

    I would have to rethink about Mr. Huntsman. We don't need any more Manchurian canidates.

    May 7, 2011 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  17. Brian Dodge

    "The consensus was, 'Holy crap this guy looks like a president,'"
    Um, holy crap, this guy only looks presidential compared to Palin, Trump, Huckabee, Gingrich, Bachman, Ron Paul, and various fringe Republicans.

    May 7, 2011 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  18. Donny

    Naw, Huntsman is too reasonable, serious and capable to be nominated by the current republican party. He's not riding the clown car.

    May 7, 2011 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  19. Buzz

    What is a GOP Heavyweight; a self serving, corrupt, narrow minded, phony who just happens to be fat?

    May 8, 2011 12:57 am at 12:57 am |

    Not in 2012 sir........

    Obama/Biden 2012!!!

    May 8, 2011 02:04 am at 2:04 am |
  21. ThinkAgain

    Huntsman is an opportunist who easily turns on his friends and benefactors. How could anyone trust him to do the right thing for our country and not just sell out to the highest bidder?

    May 8, 2011 02:17 am at 2:17 am |
  22. morpunkt

    Huntsman never will be a serious candidate for the presidency, by mere default for working for the Obama administration.
    This was a feeble attempt to divide the Mormon Corridor vote (of the Rocky Mountain/Arizona/California areas), for 2012, in order to thwart the Romney threat.
    The GOP will never give this guy the nod. Romney earned his place for the nod, by campaigning for McCain in 2008, once he conceded the race to him. The Reps will reward him for that. So, don't even take this article seriously.

    May 8, 2011 02:26 am at 2:26 am |
  23. Marry

    Jon Huntsman seems to be the exception in the GOP field of “pretenders”! However, he should save his energies and try to convince in 2016. Perhaps by then the GOP would start getting back to being more realistic and reasonable. At the moment he would not get the support in the Republican Party (not to mention the TP) to become an effective and good president. He has to keep in mind that he would have a crowed of loonies to lead – and that would be a real waste of energy and ruin his reputation.

    May 8, 2011 02:41 am at 2:41 am |
  24. GL

    Sorry the Racist Tea Bagger Birthers will never vote for this guy that worked for the man they hate so mcuh,Obama. Keep on dreaming.

    May 8, 2011 08:35 am at 8:35 am |