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Presidential speculation

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

With apologies to songwriter Paul Simon, “where have you gone, Jon Huntsman? A nation turns its hungry eyes to you.”

If ever the time is ripe for a third party entrant, it is now and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., could be the Ross Perot of 2012. Unlike the Texas billionaire, though, who set the highwater mark (19%) for a third party independent in 1992, enabling Bill Clinton to win with a plurality (44%), Huntsman would have a real shot at winning.

Huntsman says he is not interested in such a scenario, by the way, but this is fantasy and one can speculate. Here’s how and why, remote though the prospects are, it could be accomplished.

First, there is a vehicle in place. A group of non-partisan independents has qualified a “person to be named later” and/or a placeholder in almost all the states of the union reportedly. Organizing largely through the internet, after both major parties hold their conventions, they plan to conduct an internet convention to select their nominee.

The former Utah governor and ambassador to China is high on their list of candidates because of his successful six years as Utah’s socially moderate but fiscally conservative governor and his foreign affairs experience.

Handsome, personable, intelligent and a family man, Huntsman polls well with independents, Democrats and Republicans unhappy with their respective nominees. In particular he does well with Republicans who cannot trust Mitt Romney. Huntsman is able to inspire that hard to define but indispensable factor of coming across as trustworthy.

Secondly, Huntsman could allocate substantial family funds to the race. His father is a politically astute, well-connected billionaire. Both Huntsmans have friends and allies, many of whom were captivated, as were the editors of the Wall Street Journal, by Huntsman’s plan for stimulating the economy while still responsibly addressing the ever-growing national debt crisis.

Third, one should not underestimate the deep dislike the Huntsman family has for the Romney family, and vice versa. It goes beyond the contest between the two former governors to “save” the Utah Winter Olympics.

The Huntsmans believe Mitt Romney has no principles except doing what is first and foremost best for himself personally. They suspect, as do many, the reason Romney won’t release earlier tax returns is they will show there were years when Mitt Romney paid no taxes whatsoever.

Hire enough smart lawyers to take advantage of perfectly legal loopholes and tax shelters is easy if you have the dough. One can hear Romney saying something many other rich folks have said: Only stupid people pay taxes!

It’s all perfectly legal (read David Johnston’s book by the same name) but is it right?

Senator John McCain’s 2008 advisor, Steve Schmidt, pointed out recently that in vetting Romney as a possible veep selection, they were aware of various tax dodges Romney employed but he said he had never seen a case where someone took advantage of ALL of them at once.

Placing $100 million in an IRA, for example, stunned many other uber-rich who had never even thought such a move was legally possible.

The Obama campaign, by the time this column runs, will probably have pulled their off key, off-message tv ad of Romney singing America the Beautiful while the screen silently names off-shore places where Romney has placed his money.

The ad is succeeding in “humanizing” Romney, something the Mitt has spent considerable sums on without success. Then, lo and behold, your opponent does it for you. How many people would even attempt to sing in public?

The issue they should be zeroing in on is not the legal ways in which Romney has sheltered his money, it should be what is he hiding and why won’t he release his earlier tax returns? Every major Republican presidential candidate in modern times has released his returns. (Ronald Reagan’s showed that he was billing daughter Maureen interest on a loan? )

Presidential elections often turn on the question of which candidate voters feel they can trust with the future of the country, themselves and their families.

For the many who feel President Obama has had his shot and hasn’t done enough, especially in managing the economy, to merit another four years, they feel they cannot trust a super-rich candidate who has always been out for himself, Jon Huntsman Jr. could be an attractive alternative.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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