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Sununu: I'll Work Against Huntsman

Sununu: I'll Work Against Huntsman

By Erin McPike - March 4, 2011

HAMPTON FALLS, N.H. -- Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu is no fan of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and intends to work against him in the Granite State's Republican presidential primary if he decides to launch a bid for the White House this cycle.

For Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to China who will leave his post next month, a pathway to victory in the GOP primary would require a strong showing in the Granite State with its socially moderate Republican voters who care most about fiscal issues.

"Huntsman won't play well here. Huntsman won't play well anywhere, because Huntsman's only barely a Republican," Sununu said in a lengthy interview Wednesday afternoon.

"Huntsman's too liberal, comes with the tarnish of having accepted the appointment from Obama. He's never said anything really conservative in his life. How's he going to win in a conservative primary? He can't. Huntsman is, in my opinion, a non-player," he said.

Not so, said Peter Spaulding, a longtime New Hampshire Republican who would support Huntsman if he runs. Spaulding was a key player for Arizona Sen. John McCain in the Granite State in the last presidential cycle.

"It sounds like the warm and cuddly John Sununu we know," Spaulding joked. He pointed out that Huntsman is not even a candidate yet, "so I think it's a little early to be making negative comments about him."

As for Huntsman's ideology, Spaulding advised, "You can't be elected governor of Utah twice without being pretty conservative."

But for Sununu, it goes deeper.

The immediate past chairman of the state GOP helped to revitalize the party in the state and led it to enormous victories in the 2010 elections, and he stressed the importance of beating President Obama in 2012. Even though Huntsman may run on a platform that suggests he's the most electable Republican in the race, Sununu's not buying it.

Sununu suggested that the GOP primary will feature a more conservative set of issues over the next year and added, "I think national security is going to be more important than you're hearing."

But couldn't Huntsman, who has spent the last two years in China working with its government, credibly claim that he's the leading foreign policy candidate in the field?

"He's going to try," Sununu said with a sigh. "He's still an Obamaite. We're not going to nominate an Obamaite. And I will make sure the Republican Party does not nominate an Obamaite."

Huntsman isn't the only object of Sununu's discomfort. There's also former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who announced this week that he will explore a presidential bid.

"I think Gingrich forgets the impact of him sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi talking about justifying a carbon tax," he said. "There's no way he's going to win a Republican primary with that hanging around his neck, and he's going to learn that pretty quickly."

Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler disputed Sununu’s claim: "Newt never supported a carbon tax, and in fact he’s been the most vocal critic through his organization against a carbon tax, and he’s been a vocal critic against the Obama administration’s non-existent energy policy."

Sununu said he's partial to governors and former governors who are considering the race, and he named former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, as well as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, as the best options.

The former chief of staff to George H.W. Bush has known both Barbour and Daniels for nearly three decades, but for now, he's most impressed with Romney and thinks Pawlenty could prove to be the most credible alternative.

As for Barbour, he said, "Haley's made his path harder in the last two months."

"Haley's a great governor, great politician, hardworking candidate who loves to campaign, but I'm not sure he has the burning desire to be president," Sununu said, adding, "He comes from an area that is so solidly Republican, that he doesn't add anything to a Republican candidacy in a general election."

But if he does decide to run, Sununu suggested that Barbour better move it and get started campaigning, and he said the same for Daniels.

"Mitch could be a real player," he said of Daniels. "He's a good governor. He can talk from a track record. This is a state that understands the difference between real track records and people who just talk."

He continued, "I think Mitch has six weeks to decide, but I don't think he's going to run."

Nevertheless, Sununu noted this: "I've talked to him a lot. We're old friends."

And although a number of Republican strategists in New Hampshire say there hasn't been too much buzz about Daniels, a couple of high-level GOP strategists in the state noted this week that Daniels has indeed been making calls to the Granite State recently that have flown far under the radar.

But for now, Sununu seems to have his eye on Romney, due in part to the argument of electability.

"It is so important to beat Obama in 2012 that the toughest thing any candidate will have to do is convince people they can win the primary and win the general," Sununu said.

He added, "If Mitt Romney can develop a narrative that makes that clear, he will be the nominee. And if he develops a narrative that makes me feel comfortable, I could support him."

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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