Jon Huntsman sketched out a path to the Republican nomination Wednesday that transcends the conservative base in key early states, an exercise in needle-threading that hinges on his ability to capture a large swath of independent voters.
In an interview with POLITICO, Huntsman made clear that he plans to capitalize on election rules in New Hampshire and South Carolina that allow independent voters to cast ballots in the GOP presidential primary.
“These are wide open primaries, we forget that,” Huntsman said, predicting an independent turnout in New Hampshire as high as 40 percent. “[I] think, given the fluidity of the race in these early states, that we stand a pretty good chance, and we’re putting that to the test.”
The former Utah governor’s strategy is an attempt to make a virtue out of necessity. His moderate positions on the environment, immigration and civil unions —and his time as Barack Obama’s ambassador to China—are formidable obstacles to victory in a party where the energy is concentrated in the conservative core.
According to Huntsman’s blueprint, his early state performances could provide a springboard into Florida, where his campaign is headquartered and where he expects his wife Mary Kaye, an Orlando native, to be an asset.
Huntsman described his nomination scenario: “An aggressive approach to New Hampshire and South Carolina, cutting his wife loose in Florida, and crossing the finish line—I mean, I said that last part a little tongue-in-cheek,” Huntsman explained. “But when you look at open primaries in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, I think it’s a wide open affair, I really do.”
The open primary rules in New Hampshire, home to the nation’s first primary– and an electorate with more unaffiliated voters than Republicans – helped the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, John McCain, salvage his campaign there. Huntsman has made no secret of New Hampshire’s importance to his campaign, saying he’ll skip the Iowa caucuses and setting up a head-to-head showdown there with frontrunner Mitt Romney.