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Huntsman Separates Himself From Obama, GOP Rivals

By Erin McPike - May 31, 2011

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Perhaps playing to that segment of the electorate, he said the two living Republicans he most admires are now folk heroes: Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

"I admire the single-minded, intense focus on finding solutions," he said, referring to Ryan's mission to address the debt and spending. He cited Huckabee for connecting to voters and articulating a message in a heartfelt and thoughtful way.

Detailed policy positions are not available yet, but Huntsman has offered a few bold thoughts, going a bit further than some of his rivals who have been at this for a while. He supports Ryan's Medicare plan, which doesn't address Social Security. Some of Huntsman's rivals have been wary of saying too much about the latter entitlement program, with some even questioning openly whether it could be changed.

"I think it has to change. I do," he said. "You cannot extrapolate our current spending levels on current assumptions that underlie Medicare and Social Security and expect to be in a good place for future generations."

He spoke with some nostalgia about medical breakthroughs extending life and suggested that it might be time to raise the retirement age. He also pointed to indexing and means-testing as other ways to change the system.

Both Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels, both of whom chose not to run, spoke about the need to consider defense cuts; Huntsman is the only serious contender in the GOP race right now who is keeping that message alive. The Utahn also questioned the current military mission in Libya, knocking it as too expensive for the U.S. government at this time.

What's more, he is moving rapidly into the deficit-hawk territory that Mitch Daniels would have occupied in the primary had he run. Huntsman emphasizes the national debt on the stump, and gives some context from his time in China. When Fox News did a 12-part series on the likely Republican presidential contenders in November (including Daniels but not Huntsman), Daniels' answer on what he views as the most pressing foreign policy issue facing the United States is the same one Huntsman cites -- for more obvious reasons.

"Managing the Chinese relationship, probably, for mutual advantage to both countries," Daniels told Bret Baier.

Huntsman's team had viewed the Indiana governor as their biggest competitor on the path to the nomination, and with him out of the way, they are moving rapidly into the Hoosier's space. They even have some of the same problems: Huntsman is seen as a moderate; Daniels took heat for suggesting a social truce. They're both civil. Daniels praised Obama on education reform; Huntsman actually worked for the president.

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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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