Stratham, New Hampshire -- This may be a naïve question, but why isn't Jon Huntsman winning the race for the Republican nomination? That's the puzzle I've been wrestling with after a trip to New Hampshire last week.
As a British outsider looking in, I am struck by Republicans' apparent dissatisfaction with their candidates for president. One after another, the candidates have surged, and then slipped back. Yet, strangely, there has, as yet, been no Huntsman surge. Indeed, "Jon who?" was the response of many people I spoke to in New Hampshire. Republicans who do recognize him seem to view him as the RINO in the race.
But the former Utah governor appears to tick most of the boxes that are important to conservative voters. A pro-life, pro-second-amendment fiscal conservative with a strong record in foreign policy and in the private sector, Huntsman is surely the candidate that Republicans have been looking for yet don't seem to want to find. It is not hard to think of reasons why -- in theory at least -- he should be surging rather than sinking without trace. Here are ten of them:
1) He could beat Obama
The number one issue for most Republicans is finding someone who can beat Barack Obama. That means someone capable of appealing to the biggest block of voters: independents. And Huntsman's moderate positions on many issues such as climate change and evolution make him a real draw for centrists. In fact, the New York Times gives Huntsman a higher percentage of beating President Obama in a general election than any other Republican candidate.
2) He has bragging rights on job-creation
The number one issue in the general election will be jobs and Huntsman's record on that score is not to be sniffed at. By what seems to be the most objective reckoning, Utah was the fourth-best state in the country in terms of job creation during his time as governor.
3) He should appeal to social conservatives
Yes, he is a Mormon, which may put off some on the Christian right, but he has been married for 28 years and has seven kids -- the perfect family man. Social conservatives should also like his strong pro-life record as governor of Utah, when he passed numerous bills restricting abortions.
4) The gun lobby should like him
As the candidate himself quipped at a town-hall event in Stratham last week, with a name like "Huntsman," you know where he stands on the second amendment.
5) He did health-care reform based on the market not mandates
In Utah, Huntsman favored a market-based reform of health care that created a defined-contribution marketplace that increased consumer information and choice. He decided against imposing a mandate of the sort that Republicans hate in Obamacare.
6) He cut taxes in Utah
While governor, he simplified Utah's tax code and reduced sales tax on food, saving consumers $70 million annually. In 2008, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, ranked Huntsman joint fifth out of all US governors on overall fiscal policy.
7) He is not a career politician
Huntsman was an executive at the Huntsman Corporation, a multi-billion dollar international chemical company with over 12,000 employees. He has also worked as an executive at the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, an organisation that has raised millions of dollars in the fight against cancer.
8) He has foreign-policy gravitas
As a former US ambassador to China, Huntsman possesses a valuable insight into the country that will be America's chief rival in the 21st century. This was Huntsman's second posting overseas: he previously served as ambassador to Singapore in the George HW Bush administration.
9) He is capable of working across party lines
It was President Obama who offered him the position of ambassador to China; Huntsman showed that he is prepared to cross party lines to serve his country. That suggests he might actually be able to get things done in Washington, too.
10) He has a sense of humour
On the stump, Huntsman likes to crack a few jokes. A sense of humour is another useful weapon in the Oval Office.
Time is running out for the Huntsman surge. The New Hampshire primary on 10th January is his make-or-break moment. Stranger things have happened, of course. But more likely, the Huntsman non-surge will remain one of the big mysteries -- at least to this European observer -- of the 2012 campaign.