|Huntsman, center, above|
Scott Conroy of RealClear Politics reports that
... former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu is not the only influential New Hampshire Republican with an opinion about Jon Huntsman's electability.
Sununu caused a rumpus in GOP circles here last week when he told RealClearPolitics' Erin McPike that Huntsman "won't play well anywhere" as a presidential candidate because the outgoing U.S. ambassador to China was "barely a Republican."
Sununu's blunt disparagement of the former Utah governor did not sit well with some unaligned New Hampshire GOP officials and strategists, who deemed it counterproductive to the process for such a prominent Republican figure to write off a prospective presidential contender before a single person, let alone Hutsman himself, has even officially announced a candidacy.
Manchester attorney Ovide Lamontagne, who ran a close race against now Sen. Kelly Ayotte in the 2010 GOP primary, said in an interview Thursday that Sununu's criticism of Huntsman was unfair.
"I don't think anyone in New Hampshire should be dismissing anyone's candidacy, frankly," Lamontagne told RCP. "That's why the New Hampshire primary is so special. A real dark horse can come here and actually make significant inroads and do well, and that's why we have the primary we do."
Although Lamontagne ran as a movement conservative in 2010, he refused to rule out the possibility that Huntsman - who has a moderate record on some social issues - could gain traction in a Republican primary, arguing that electability would be a particularly salient issue for New Hampshire Republicans who are aware of the daunting prospect of trying to unseat an incumbent president.
Huntsman is expected to make his perceived electability a centerpiece of his platform.
The Huntsman campaign-in-waiting is already at work making this case, seizing on the White House's apparent concern with the charismatic former governor whom they may have incorrectly assumed to have successfully exiled to the other side of the world when President Obama appointed him ambassador to China in 2009.
On Wednesday, Obama seemed particularly intent on drowning Huntsman with praise, calling him "an outstanding advocate for this administration" as the ambassador prepares to head home next month to mull a political future that could set him against his current boss.
"Despite the fact that Huntsman's still virtually unknown, the president and his advisors have enough political sense to recognize that he would be the most formidable opponent in the general election," said a strategist likely to be involved in a Huntsman campaign. "The only reason they are meddling in the GOP primary at this early stage is because they know Huntsman can win."
Still, Sununu's point is that Huntman's recent past cuts both ways. Sure, the White House respected him enough to try and co-opt him, but serving in the administration of a Democratic president is not exactly an ideal resume bullet point in a Republican primary.
Furthermore, New Hampshire voters are unlikely to reward a candidate simply because he claims the best chance of winning in November-as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani can attest.
Huntsman is expected to make his presidential decision sometime in the late-spring or early summer.
If he does decide to run, strategists anticipate that Huntsman will downplay the Iowa caucuses and go all-in on New Hampshire - a strategy McCain successfully employed on his way to becoming the Republican nominee in 2008.