Mitt Romney isn’t the only Mormon candidate making his case to evangelicals at the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Jon Huntsman delivered a deft speech Friday morning, one that provided a peek at the pitch he’ll be making to social conservatives as he continues to explore a possible presidential bid.
In a 12-minute speech, the former Utah governor touted his anti-abortion record, his stewardship of the Beehive State’s economy and the perspective on American exceptionalism he gained from serving in Asia. He opened with an anecdote about his two adopted daughters, one of whom was abandoned in a Chinese vegetable market, as a way to underscore his belief in the value of life. As governor, Huntsman noted, he signed every anti-abortion bill that arrived at his desk, including one requiring parental permission to have the procedure and another that made it illegal in a patient’s second trimester. “I don’t think the Republican party should focus on our economic life to the neglect of our human life. That is a trade we should not make,” Huntsman said. “If Republicans ignore life, the deficit we face is one that is much more destructive. It will be a deficit of the heart and of the soul.”
It’s possible that these appeals may never entirely thaw the frost. As Amy noted, one-third of evangelicals say they’re leery of supporting a Mormon candidate. Huntsman has compounded the difficulty of the courtship by taking a variety of positions that buck Republican orthodoxy, including his support for civil unions and cap-and-trade. And there may be a faction of the base with such antipathy for Barack Obama that they can’t stomach a candidate who deigned to work for him. As the press and party insiders anoint Huntsman a top-tier contender, there are plenty of observers who consider him a Beltway pipe dream, a talented politician whose preference for comity runs counter to this cycle’s demand for confrontation. “Huntsman is not a top-tier candidate for 2012,” Nate Silver tweeted recently. “He’s a true moderate in a party in no mood to elect one. It really is just that simple.” It’s very early, but so far the poll numbers support that claim.
Huntsman is determined to shrug off the moderate tag, and his address today showcased his ability to speak the language of social and economic conservatism. He bemoaned “the serfdom of high debt,” the “seemingly unstoppable growth of government, the resulting massive regulation and debt.” Like Romney, he will point to his stint in a governor’s mansion as evidence he can turn things around. “As governor of Utah – while our country faded into recession – we created an environment that brought jobs to the state without resorting to out of control spending and debt. It is time for America to do the same,” Huntsman said in a separate statement this morning, in the wake of a report that revealed last month’s anemic job growth. He’ll bring that message to New Hampshire this weekend, his second swing through the state that holds the key to his presidential hopes.
You can watch his speech below: