Utah’s elected officials are rallying around Mitt Romney instead of former Governor Jon Huntsman because Huntsman is an “unknown quantity” even in his own state, according to Senator Mike Lee (R-UT).
Lee, who worked as Huntsman’s chief counsel, told TPM that even he wasn’t sure yet where his former boss stood on the big issues as a presidential contender.
“He’s such a new entry that a lot of people — including me — have not yet had an opportunity to review his platform,” he said. “He’s something of an unknown quantity as a presidential candidate.”
Romney snagged a mass endorsement from dozens of Utah officials earlier this week, including the state’s senior Senator, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and its Lt. Governor, Greg Bell. But the true prize for Romney was Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who made his name as Huntsman’s campaign manager and chief of staff before running for Congress. The announcement was a tough blow to Huntsman, who is coming off a weak fundraising quarter and has yet to make much of an impact in the polls.
Lee noted that the two presidential candidates were both very popular figures in Utah, but credited Romney’s experience on the national stage with swinging the early balance in his favor.
“Governor Romney obviously has a lot of ties to Utah,” he said. “People got to know him during the 2002 Olympics and he’s regarded as something of a Utahan. He gained a lot of popularity during his 2008 presidential bid in Utah…that momentum has propelled him very nicely into this cycle.”
By contrast, “Huntsman has entered the presidential race much later in the game. He wasn’t involved in it in 2008 and a lot of people even in Utah have not yet gotten to know presidential candidate Huntsman.”
As for Lee, his endorsement is still up for grabs and will surely be a sought after commodity given his popularity with the Tea Party movement. Romney recently met with Lee and Hatch to discuss a balanced budget amendment, which the candidate endorsed shortly afterwards.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.