SALT LAKE CITY — A publicized appearance in early primary state New Hampshire is leading to speculation that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is considering another White House run in 2016.
Huntsman told TV station WMUR during a visit to Portsmouth Friday he was reconnecting with friends from the 2012 campaign, and it was not a business trip. Still, Huntsman has not declared what his intentions are for the next presidential cycle.
"For us, whether we ever get involved in politics or not, this was one of the most memorable things of our lives," Huntsman told a WMUR reporter. "We are most grateful for the process and for the people of New Hampshire for making it possible."
World Trade Center Utah president and CEO Lew Cramer, who has been friends with Huntsman since the two worked together in the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s, declined to speculate what Huntsman's future plans entailed.
Nevertheless, he told KSL Monday that Huntsman should keep his options open. He touted Huntsman's abilities and knowledge of international business, something he said has been lacking under the current administration.
"I would recommend that he do that. I want that kind of talent leading my country going forward," Cramer said. "He has seen it all. He knows it all and is looking forward always for the future."
Whether he was keeping an eye to the future with his New Hampshire visit remains a question mark, though University of Utah associate political science professor Matthew Burbank said it was a safe bet to assume Huntsman was keeping all options in front of him.
A little TV face time in New Hampshire likely didn't hurt. A WMUR Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and dated Feb. 14 found Huntsman tied for 5th with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul among possible GOP candidates. Eight percent supported Huntsman in the poll. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the top favored Republican name, garnering the support of 14 percent in the poll.
Burbank said running as a Republican again may be challenging for Huntsman, given his recent attacks against the party.
"Those aren't necessarily the best ways to attract the kind of positive attention that you need," Burbank said. Huntsman also recently spoke in favor of gay marriage, a position that would appear to put him in line with more Democrats than Republicans.
Switching political affiliation to independent or Democrat also likely would not help Huntsman's chances, Burbank said.
An independent, Burbank said, always faces a difficult road without the support of a political machine.
Burbank said if Huntsman switched and became a Democrat, he would face trust and credibility issues.
"(Switching parties is) not something that most voters are very happy with for the most part. And again, I think it makes it more difficult because there are clearly Democrats who are going to be strong candidates."
"It's not just a matter of switching the label, it's also a matter of saying, ‘I'm going to leave the party which I've been attached to for a very long time and say that I'm a member of another party,' " Burbank said. "One of the things they could use against Huntsman is, ‘Well, you just recently became a Democrat. You only wanted to do it to run for president. Right. You haven't done any of the other things that you need to really show your commitment to the party.' "
Burbank said a switch in party affiliation is considered highly unlikely for Huntsman. Even in speaking in support of gay marriage in his WMUR interview, he invoked the name of Abraham Lincoln, who is considered the first Republican president.
"That's not something that most voters are very happy with for the most part," Burbank said. "And again, I think it makes it more difficult because there are clearly Democrats who are going to be strong candidates."
Regardless of how Huntsman decides to proceed, he appears to have plenty of time to make up his mind. Burbank said most candidates in today's political environment declare their presidential intentions about two years prior to the general election. In Huntsman's case, that would give him until later next year.