US PRESIDENCY: Suddenly, Huntsman is a serious rival.

Jon Huntsman

Huntsman sweeps into Wall St Journal poll lead as research shows any ‘good’ GOP candidate could beat Obama

Every now and then, research data tells you something important. Not often – but enough to make it exciting when it happens.

A Gallup poll released last week suggested that President Obama still leads in a head-to-head race against any of the declared 2012 Republican presidential candidates. This was, however, before former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman declared last night.

The fascinating thing buried in these data  is that against any ‘unknown generic Republican’ Barack Obama would lose the election 44% to 39%.

I’ve just taken a look at the Wall Street Journal’s building survey of business readers. They are running at 56% to 44% in favour of Huntsman for the GOP nomination. It’s no way a representative US sample of course, but it’s clear already that a fresh and ‘branded’ Republican candidate is going to make things tough for the President – whose Osama Bin Laden boost dissipated very quickly in the end.

The newly declared runner has the ideal credential for dealing with a debt crisis. Not only is he a serial winner – Huntsman was elected Governor of Utah in 2004 and won re-election in 2008 with nearly 78% of the vote – during his tenure, Huntsman cut taxes by more than $400 million—the largest tax cut in the state’s history—and Utah was named the “Best Managed State in America” by Pew Research Centre.

Interestingly, Huntsman has another ace card, in that his experience of Asian life, cultures and economies far surpasses any of the other candidates. He spent two years in Taiwan, was the  United States Ambassador to Singapore from 1992-1993, and ran US Asian trade under Dubya – launching global trade negotiations in Doha, Qatar in 2001, and guiding the accession of China and Taiwan into the World Trade Organization. He has been working for the Obama Administration for just over two years now, as US Ambassador to China.

He would also receive strong support from, of all people, Glenn Beck….a close friend of Huntsman’s dad. Beck’s view in private is, I understand, ‘Anyone but Obama’.

A pro-Lifer with a strong record of cutting government down to size, Jon Huntsman has an innate appeal to Tea Partiers, but needs to work hard at winning over a GOP Establishment which (even in Utah) is lukewarm about the bloke. But he has made a good start: former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray will head up the former Utah governor’s policy team.
This probably won’t be the last eye-catching endorsement Huntsman will get from the mainstream Republican elite, especially given his many ties to Reaganism and both Bushes. This combined with the Wall Street and corporate America backing he is already in line to receive – fully justified by today’s WSJ poll –  will give him a leg up on becoming the ‘Romney Alternative’.

The key to Jon Huntsman’s success from here onwards will be his ability to persuade – with convincing data – that he is the one who can maximise the GOP/Tea Party vote, and he is the winner who can beat the President. He is without question the candidate most feared by Obama’s re-election team; he needs to make sure the Republican power-brokers understand this too.

Meanwhile, Obama himself is set to reject the Pentagon’s advice with withdrawal of up to 30,000 troops by November 2012….just in time for the Election.

(Note for English readers: David Cameron has promised to pull out 450 troops. Data kind of gives one a perspective in these matters, I find).

There will be limited Slogposts for the next two days, as I’m going to be travelling.