Huntsman and Electability

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 1 2011 9:25 AM

Huntsman and Electability

Peter Hamby talked to possible political allies of Jon Huntsman and -- sit down for this one -- they argued that Huntsman was electable with a lot of space to beat Mitt Romney.

"There is a lot of room on the center-right side of the aisle for Jon," the adviser said. "But he isn't going to take a back seat to anyone. He cut taxes and cut spending as governor and had a free-market based health care plan, unlike Obama and Romney. And he is pro-life and pro-Second Amendment."

The adviser added that Huntsman's perceived squishiness on other topics - along with working for President Obama, he broke with his party on flashpoint issues like civil unions and climate change while governor - could be an asset in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, which allows independents to cast ballots.

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Because John McCain won the GOP nomination in 2008, there's this idea that a "center-right" candidate could win the nod again. I don't see it. Apart from luck, McCain had a terrific advantage -- he was seen as the most electable candidate the party had, in what was obviously going to be a tough year.

Let's leave aside the quirky New Hampshire and Michigan primaries and the Iowa caucuses. It was in South Carolina where McCain overcame his problems with the Republican base, and eked out a 33-30 win over Mike Huckabee. But one reason for that win was the perception that McCain was electable. According to the exit poll , 43 percent of voters believed that McCain had the best chance of winning the general election, but only 23 percent said Huckabee did. McCain's victory over Mitt Romney in Florida was also close, 36-31. But he had a 13-point lead, 46-33, on electability .

When do we start seeing polls that show Huntsman ahead of Barack Obama in 2012 trial heats? That's when we see Huntsman overcoming his problems with the GOP base.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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