Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign manager resigned on Thursday, just a month after the former Utah governor kicked off his bid for the White House. The departure of Susie Wiles, a former campaign manager for Florida Governor Rick Scott who helped guide the decision to base the campaign in Orlando, comes as Huntsman has struggled to improve on moribund early poll numbers.
Neither Huntsman’s team nor Wiles provided a reason for the departure. “It was just time,” Wiles told the Miami Herald. “I signed up to get it started. It’s like a phase. This morning I said it’s time to move on.” Wiles will be replaced by Matt David, Huntsman’s communications director.
The staff shakeup signals the campaign’s awareness that Huntsman, who has pledged to make civility a hallmark of his campaign (even as he takes gentle swipes at his competitors), needs to sharpen his message and draw aggressive distinctions with rivals as he tries to carve out a niche in a crowded and unsettled Republican field. After a splashy campaign kickoff in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, Huntsman has notched anemic poll numbers–including in New Hampshire, the capital of his primary map–that have sapped the campaign’s early momentum.
Many Republicans have argued that Huntsman, who has taken a batch of policy positions anathema to GOP primary voters and who until recently served as President Obama’s Ambassador to China, had no natural constituency. Huntsman’s aides dispute this claim, arguing that his job-growth record in Utah, history of lowering taxes and foreign policy chops will resonate with voters. They also believe Huntsman’s call for comity will appeal to voters frustrated with America’s spittle-flecked political discourse. Still, the move to install David signals the acknowledgment that Huntsman’s campaign must be “more aggressive from a messaging and tactical standpoint,” chief strategist John Weaver said in a statement.
It is still months before the snows of New Hampshire, and –particularly for a candidate who was working as an envoy to Beijing as his rivals were laying the groundwork for their bids — too early to panic over early polls. But if Huntsman is to emerge as a mainstream alternative to Mitt Romney, a fellow former governor and Mormon with a business background, he needs to start getting traction soon, whether the boost comes from new TV ad buys, as Politico suggests, or the endorsements that have been trickling in from Granite State politicians and South Carolina political veterans. Huntsman’s team is hoping this staff reshuffling marks the start of a brighter phase.