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Slow-Moving "Super" PAC Impedes Huntsman's Campaign

Slow-Moving "Super" PAC Impedes Huntsman's Campaign

By Erin McPike - October 12, 2011


With last year's Supreme Court decision that lifted campaign spending limits for corporations, unions and others, "Super" PACs were supposed to be all the rage for 2012, sending soft money to the major Republican presidential candidates and making an impact with significant ad buys.

So where are the Super PACs? In particular, where is Our Destiny PAC, the group supporting Jon Huntsman's presidential bid?

One explanation for the lack of activity, offered by several Republican strategists, is that the field was just settled last week with the announcements by Chris Christie and Sarah Palin that they would not run. Prior to that, there was no point in the front-running efforts wasting money on expensive advertising.

It’s a different story for Huntsman.

The former Utah governor has languished in national polls, but he is starting to inch up in New Hampshire, where he recently moved his campaign headquarters. Pulling off an upset victory over Mitt Romney there -- where Democrats can vote in the Republican primary, and where there’s a heavy concentration of moderates and independents -- is the centerpiece of Huntsman’s strategy. But in order to do it, his name recognition needs a boost, and that likely necessitates an ad campaign to supplement his stepped up retail politicking in the Granite State.

Here’s the hitch: Huntsman’s actual campaign structure has foundered on the fundraising front, and several GOP sources who track the money flow closely have suggested to RealClearPolitics that his campaign is likely to announce a disappointing third-quarter fundraising figure when the report is released this week. And that means the campaign needs a well-funded advertising boost from another entity, such as its affiliated Super PAC.

There are a couple of unexpected complications on that front, however.

The first is money. If Huntsman’s campaign can’t raise enough on its own, why should his Super PAC? The trajectory of his campaign so far hasn’t given many big donors a reason to believe he can win, strategists say, and that confidence is, obviously, important to those with big money to give away.

The candidate’s father, Jon Huntsman Sr., is enormously wealthy, and there has long been an expectation that he would bankroll Our Destiny PAC with a hefty contribution. Sources say that has not yet happened, and the lack of ads coming from the under-funded organization could well impede Huntsman’s ability to break out in New Hampshire with less than three months before the primary.

But even if the elder Huntsman did pony up some cash, there’s another problem. Fred Davis, the Hollywood-based adman who had signed on to work for Huntsman, resigned from the official campaign on July 27 and moved to the PAC. But according to Campaign Legal Center associate counsel Paul Ryan, federal election rules concerning coordinated communications bar Davis from cutting an ad for the PAC until he has been off of the campaign’s payroll for 120 days.

In other words, Davis, who has had creative control over the Huntsman brand essentially since its inception earlier this year -- and who cut all of the initial Web ads that defined Huntsman’s early days in the race -- can’t exercise any direction over the Super PAC’s Huntsman-focused ads until after Thanksgiving. That gives him a little over a month make an impact ahead of Election Day in the Granite State.

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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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