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New Manager Named for Huntsman's Struggling Campaign

New Manager Named for Huntsman's Struggling Campaign

By Erin McPike - July 22, 2011


Herman Cain lost two key campaign aides in Iowa, and another one in New Hampshire, to resignations earlier this month. Newt Gingrich suffered an exodus of 16 staffers in a single day in June.

The latest shake-up in the Republican presidential field happened Thursday, when Jon Huntsman's campaign manager, Susie Wiles, resigned. She was swiftly replaced, however, by communications director Matt David.

It's no secret that Huntsman's campaign has struggled to get off the ground and gain traction with voters in the early nominating states, despite the combination of deep pockets, a personable candidate and a strong infrastructure. One New Hampshire-based adviser told RCP in late May -- when Huntsman made his debut appearance there -- of expectations that the former Utah governor would hit about 10 percent in the polls within a month. That hasn't happened. (Top aides based at the headquarters say that benchmark was never expected.)

Nevertheless, aides say the candidate's current standing in the polls and some of the mistakes made on his announcement tour weren't the reason for the staffing shake-up, which happen all too often in presidential politics.

Wiles, who managed Rick Scott's gubernatorial victory in Florida last year, had not met Huntsman when she signed on to be his campaign manager -- in the event he decided to run. Following her resignation, she granted several interviews to Florida-based reporters and noted that she still supports Huntsman.

She told the Miami Herald, "It was in my plans to resign at some point. I have a great life and a great situation. We launched this thing and it's up and running. Our team is so good that we hired from within. I continue to have a role here. I intend to be friend and confidante of Huntsman," she said.

Juleanna Glover, a veteran Republican operative and a leading Washington supporter of Huntsman's, pointed out in an interview that "it's pretty typical in presidential campaigns to see staff changes early on."

She noted that because Huntsman recently returned from nearly two years in Beijing as the U.S. ambassador to China, "he doesn't know the vast majority of the staffers." And, she added, "this is probably not the last time that you will see staff changes," mostly because it's a cyclical process for national campaigns.

Four years ago, John McCain's campaign underwent a significant staff shake-up and still went on to win the Republican nomination.

In Huntsman's case, chief strategist John Weaver has long been close to newly minted campaign manager Matt David, and the duo effectively considered themselves partners in running the campaign when Huntsman returned from China and began traveling to early primary states in May.

For his part, David quickly gained Huntsman's confidence and has become close to the candidate and his family in a very short time. He's been the one briefing Huntsman constantly and helping him to respond quickly and adapt his message as he goes forward. He's also a manager that Huntsman himself was able to choose.

David is no stranger to high-stress national political situations, having done two high-profile tours of duty with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as playing communications roles on the McCain campaign, at the Republican National Committee, and rapid response for the Bush White House during the nomination battles for Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

Now, with Huntsman, David will lead the campaign as it plans a more aggressive strategy for late summer and the fall, beginning with Huntsman's debate debut in Iowa on Aug. 11.

As Glover put it, the debate in Ames will be "vitally important" for Huntsman and "the next major milestone."

"I fundamentally believe he's the best candidate, period," she said. "And I think he'll make a great president."

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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