The Hunt for Victory

With the US Presidential elections looming, Executive Editor Raheem Kassam gives us his view on what the Huntsman campaign must do to win.

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He looks good behind that podium, right?
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Raheem Kassam
On 14 July 2011 10:48

In 2008, an inexperienced yet articulate young pretender undertook an almost impossible task.

He failed. On almost all measures of success, the man fell short. And now it is very possible that he will pay the ultimate price.

Of course I'm talking about the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama.

When it comes to the economy, international security, healthcare and the cultural zeitgeist of the US, Obama has got it wrong at almost every level. Bailout programmes have increased unemployment, a bent knee to the Arab world and Iran has weakened America's position and the healthcare debacle rages on as Americans witness their own 'miserable little compromise' come to fruition. His one recent saving grace, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, has now evaporated in a haze of debt-ceiling worries and partisan gesticulating.

Yes, yes, yes - you've heard this all before. But it's important to bear this context in mind before we judge who really can defeat the President in next year's general election. I'm not going to run through all the possible candidates, but focus on the reasons why one man in particular should be watched very carefully and how he can galvanise the 'squeezed middle' of the US that were so well courted by the Obama campaign in 2007/8.

Jon Huntsman may seem like an oddball for the competition at first, but after witnessing this massive failure of a President who took the reins without the necessary experience, the American people will be seeking composure, maturity and will indeed prefer someone who can rise above partisanship. This is Huntsman to a tee.

I suspect there were many reasons for Huntsman missing the New Hampshire debate, primarily the infancy of his campaign. But as much as this massive publicity event was missed, it also means he wasn't lined up with the Republican candidates as they burst out of the starting blocks. Huntsman now has an upper hand as his opponents have shown their cards - he is yet to deliver in this area.

Furthermore, Huntsman can watch who stumbled at the first fence - he'll be watching the Pawlenty campaign closely, picking off donors and activists as 'T-Paw' inevitably bows out early.

And what of the greatest threat? Mitt Romney has been stuffing his campaign coffers since 2007, after which he was gazumped by John McCain. I understand that Romney also considers his choice of running mate as crucial, in his words, not as a vote winner, but so as not to lose votes as McCain did.

I disagree with this theory. It is my belief that whoever snaps up the eager and impressive young Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, will curry much favour with the Tea Party and the GOP base. This is the Holy Grail.

So what does Huntsman need to do now to mount serious challenge to Romney, let alone Obama?

Initially, he must use his strengths to create a narrative. Many will be warning him to play down the fact that he served as Ambassador to China under the Obama administration, or perhaps even hide his Mormon background. This would be a mistake. After Obama, US voters will be on the lookout for the Potemkin village once again. Smokescreens and obfuscation will lead to distrust.

Huntsman has also worked for Reagan, both Bushes and served as the Governor of Utah. His campaign should doubtlessly be built on the idea of him being a life-long servant to the American people. This could play well, but he should also stress where his credentials lie with the private sector. American voters aren't as sentimental as lots of Europeans about state institutions and functionaries.

Huntsman must play up the 'post-partisan, fiscal conservative, internationalist' if he progresses to the next stage of the contest. To bring down Romney will require sticking power and a campaign focused on 'Obamneycare'. He must push his low-tax credentials and reaffirm his commitment to the one big thing that the American voters want in terms of foreign policy - the end of the war in Afghanistan.

If the debt-ceiling problems continue to rattle on between now and the election period proper, which they likely will, then Huntsman will be able to build on the idea of him being able to rise above partisanship and sort the country's problems out. Right now, he must start being clear and repetitive to drive the point home. He could very well be the Josiah Bartlet of the right.

Raheem Kassam is a campaign strategist and the Executive Editor of The Commentator. He tweets at: @RaheemJKassam

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