Santorum Wins Straw Poll; Huntsmania Comes to Columbia (Although Not to Where the Republicans Are)

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 7 2011 9:23 AM

Santorum Wins Straw Poll; Huntsmania Comes to Columbia (Although Not to Where the Republicans Are)

COLUMBIA, SC -- Here's how much media interest there is in Jon Huntsman's nascent presidential bid -- his asterisk-to-marginal support in polling be damned. His commencement speech at the University of South Carolina has attracted reporters from ABC News, CNN, USA Today, the Huffington Post, the AP, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Washington Examiner, and a bunch of other national outlets.

Walking among the reporters were Huntsman advisers John Weaver and Fred Davis, beaming about the six-day tour they'd just conducted with the candidate -- good feedback from New York donors, good meetings with politicos. The state GOP's convention is happening a few blocks away, but Huntsman is not going to it. He has some meetings later.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Davis, not divulging what Huntsman would come out of the gate with, did make a confession. He had recorded that We campaign radio ad for cap-and-trade, featuring Tim Pawlenty, which had been played back during the Thursday night debate.

"There's a lot of good material for negative ads this year," said one reporter.

"There's always material for negative ads," said Davis.

The ceremony began with some typical praise for graduating students from USC President Harris Pastides, presaged by praise for the president and military for the capture of Osama bin Laden.

"I know you join me in being grateful that our decade-long nightmare is over," said Pastides.

As the ceremony continued, the South Carolina GOP released the results of the straw poll participated in by 408 people at the Silver Elephant Dinner last night.

Santorum 150
Romney 61
Cain 44
Trump 29
Bachmann 22
Christie 22
Gingrich 16
Huckabee 16
Daniels 15
Paul 8
Pawlenty 7
Palin 6
Huntsman 4

There were no votes for Gary Johnson, Buddy Roemer and John Bolton. Santorum had stayed to speak at the convention -- the only 2012er to do so -- and hung around for an hour afterward shaking hands.

UPDATE: Huntsman's speech, a solid combination of advice for college kids and inspirational stories, gave the assembled press some grist, too. He mentioned his choice to work for the Obama administration.

Give back. As much as you’re able. Work to keep America great. Serve her, if asked. I was, by a president of a different political party. But in the end, while we might not all be of one party, we are all part of one nation, a nation that needs your generational gift of energy and confidence.

Whatever it means when reporters say someone "looks like a president," it applies to Huntsman. Tan, athletic, perfectly coifed, he had a captive audience but he didn't bore them. He made a few pop culture references that did not actually come off as panders -- they were just uncool enough not to. He confessed that "my initial passion in life was to be a rock and roll musician," and described an old look of "super skinny jeans" and "Rod Stewart shaggy hair" in the admirably failed band Wizard . He quoted from Ben Folds's 2001 song "The Luckiest":

I don't get many things right the first time. In fact, I am told that a lot. Now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls brought me here. And I know that I am the luckiest.

It's the sort of quote that might appear on someone's Facebook page. Oh, Huntsman had that covered.

"It's easy to look at somebody else's Facebook wall and decide that their life is that much more put together," he said.

Huntsman's team had done a little pre-spinning about how the (not yet) candidate doesn't talk too much about himself. He learned how in a hurry, and gave the crowd a nice meet-cute story about how he met his wife, failed to impress her at first, then won her over. There was more of that than there was politics, but near the start of the speech there was a line that could work in that context.

"The real secret about diplomats is that we are trained to say something when there is something say, and trained to say nothing when there is something to say."

After the speech, Pastides made a prediction. "There will be two Google searches: Huntsman and Wizard."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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