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Huntsman appears out of step and out of time

The old adage about keeping your enemies close may well have been on Barack Obama's mind when he brought Jon Huntsman into his administration as ambassador to China.

The 2009 posting put Mr. Huntsman in political, if not quite physical, proximity to the President many had speculated he might seek to replace in 2012.

Indeed, until then, the dashing Mr. Huntsman had been as close as the Republican Party had come to producing its very own JFK. Mr. Obama seemed right to be afraid.

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But since Mr. Huntsman, 51, spurned his "boss" last spring and began his run for the GOP presidential nomination, his candidacy has had all the bounce of a lead balloon.

The former Utah governor and scion of a billionaire business magnate has one last chance to make a splash in Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire. He has focused all his efforts on the Granite State by appealing to moderate Republicans and independent voters.

But hopes for a last-minute surge in New Hampshire, like the one that propelled Rick Santorum to the top of the GOP field in Iowa this week, seem to be dying by the hour.

The failure of Mr. Huntsman to catch on is one of the great mysteries of the GOP race.

A fiscal hawk as governor who made his state a magnet for business, Mr. Huntsman served under two GOP presidents and was the youngest U.S. ambassador ever in 1992.

The Wall Street Journal singled out his economic platform as the best among the GOP candidates. The Boston Globe called him the candidate "best prepared to be president." He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He has a wholesome-looking family, including adopted children from China and India. He plays rock music and rides Harleys.

The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Huntsman is too much of a moderate to gain traction in today's Tea-Party-driven GOP. He is a Mormon who favours civil unions for gay couples and pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

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This goes only part way in explaining his dismal poll numbers. Quite simply, he seems out of place. He is awkward on the campaign trail and his debate performances draw blank stares. His corny jokes fall flat. He comes off as vaguely extraterrestrial.

And come Tuesday night, he may be voted off the GOP island.

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About the Author

Columnist Konrad Yakabuski writes on politics, policy and business for The Globe and Mail’s Comment section and Report on Business. More

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