By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
After days of dissembling by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and at a moment when President Barack Obama is shifting his attention to the situation in the Middle East with a major speech today, everyone is keeping their eyes on Jon Huntsman’s New Hampshire debut.
And for good reason.
The former U.S. ambassador to China and Utah governor is the potential GOP candidate who can claim the most foreign policy experience among the current 2012 field, and he’s going to try to use what critics say is his greatest liability — his service in the administration of the president he may soon be running against — into an asset.
Huntsman opens a five-day, campaign-style swing through the Granite State this evening, which will include a series of house parties, visits to a handful of local restaurants around there state where he will be able to test his stump speech with voters, a drop-by at a gun shop (Huntsman will be sure to showcase his pro-Second Amendment credentials) and a commencement address on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University — the same college where then presidential hopeful Barack Obama addressed graduates in May 2007.
According to Huntsman aides, the former ambassador plans to hit several talking points hard when he engages in the retail politicking so crucial to winning New Hampshire. He’ll discuss “his view from 10,000 miles away in China." He will say, "America remains inspiration of world but we need to fix our economic core. He knows how to do it: Utah was rated best managed, best state for business, best tax policy. They weathered recession growing jobs and maintaining a rainy day fund.”
But that may be easier said than done. Huntsman’s got a lot of explaining to do, especially to conservative Republicans, on a number of issues, including his positions on cap-and-trade and gay marriage.
As the Washington Post’s Nia Malika-Henderson points out today, “Huntsman’s aides reject the suggestion that he is a moderate — one called it the ‘M-word’ — and describe the former Utah governor as a mainstream conservative with a solid record of antiabortion legislation and tax cuts.” http://wapo.st/iyfSWq
Huntsman is the least well-known of the major Republican candidates — and his standing at the bottom of many national polls shows it. But a leading Huntsman organizer in the Granite State, Peter Spaulding, recently told ABC News that the former governor will become “almost a resident of New Hampshire" during the primary season, reflecting his team’s strategy to put a lot of eggs in the Granite State’s basket. http://abcn.ws/lofWIM
“New Hampshire has a history of retail politics, and if Gov. Huntsman is a candidate, we expect that he will make every effort to visit as many towns and talk to as many residents of New Hampshire as humanly possible,” Spaulding said in an interview with ABC News.
TUNE IN: And we’ll hear a lot more from Huntsman himself on “Good Morning America” on Friday in his first television interview since returning from his post abroad. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos will sit down with Huntsman exclusively later today as he begins his trip in the northern part fof the state. http://abcn.ws/jOMdJJ
NOTED: THE HUNTSMAN WARS. Consider this an indication that Democrats are not going to give Huntsman a free-ride through New Hampshire as well as a sign that they’re taking him seriously as a presidential contender: The attacks have already started in earnest. Yesterday the New Hampshire Democratic Party circulated a checklist asking comparing Huntsman’s positions to those of potential rival, Mitt Romney. “Will Jon Huntsman continue to follow in Mitt Romney's footsteps and sacrifice his convictions in the hopes of winning his party's nomination,” asked Holly Shulman, communications director for the NH Democrats, “or will he stand by his record?”
And Democrats were quick to highlight an Op-Ed in today’s Concord Monitor penned by Richard Swett, former U.S. ambassador to Denmark and former Democratic congressman from New Hampshire. “Already he has been flip-flopping, like all the Republican candidates, pandering to the most extreme views of the Republican base,” Swett wrote of Huntsman. “When these Republican candidates begin their presidential runs, it seems like all the pragmatic and commonsense policymaking they once listed as accomplishments becomes a record from which they try to distance themselves.” http://bit.ly/mkiO75
WITHER NEWT? For Newt Gingrich the question is whether he can get this train back on the rails. Can he prove that he has the self-discipline and the self-awareness needed to weather the inevitable slumps in a campaign?
We'll find out on Sunday. Despite his major flub on Medicare last weekend on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Gingrich will be a guest on CBS’ “Face the Nation" this weekend. And, as ABC’s Arlette Saenz notes, next week, Gingrich will make his first trip as a presidential candidate to New Hampshire. He will attend a Granite Oath PAC house party at the home of local “kingmaker,” Ovide Lamontagne in Manchester on Wednesday and a breakfast with the Seacoast Federation of Republican Women in Portsmouth on Thursday.
But if Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler's rambling email yesterday was any indication, he and his team still have got a lot of work to do. “The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding,” Tyler wrote in a message to the Huffington Post. “Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods.” It’s a head-scratcher — much like Gingrich’s strategy during his campaign’s initial roll out over the past week.
OBAMA TO ADDRESS ARAB SPRING. “President Obama today will deliver a speech on the Middle East that the White House says will advance specific policy ideas. But it is already being met with skepticism in a region that has been galvanized by the Arab spring,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “The White House says the president's 30-40 minute speech, to be made at the State Department later this morning, will discuss the opportunities that lie ahead for Americans and Arabs as historic change envelops the region. The president's speech will cast the United States as being able to play a new role in the Arab world, say senior officials.”
“‘In the last decade, our focus in the region was largely on Iraq, which was a military effort, and on the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the fight against al Qaeda,’ White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. ‘That fight against al Qaeda continues, but there is an opportunity in that region to focus on advancing our values and enhancing our security, and that's what the president looks forward to discussing.’ Sources say the speech will give the president a chance to assess the historic shift in the Middle East and to push for democracy. … According to administration officials, the president will attempt to explain to the world how his administration will support the democratic aspirations of the people in the region while focusing on the core principles of nonviolence, support for human rights, political reform and economic reform.” http://abcn.ws/iiryOl
More from Tapper’s “Good Morning America” preview of Obama’s speech: http://abcn.ws/iF7l6t
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” A duo of Democratic Senators today: ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl sit down with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., as well as Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
SARAH PALIN, MITCH DANIELS: GIVE NEWT A BREAK. “In a pair of conservative talk show appearances Wednesday night, Sarah Palin defended presidential contender Newt Gingrich's criticism of fellow Republican Paul Ryan's Medicare plan by reiterating her frustration with the ‘leftist lame-stream media,’” ABC’s Sheila Marikar notes. “On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, Palin argued that Gingrich had no reason to apologize for calling Ryan’s Medicare plan ‘right wing social engineering.’ ‘I don’t know why politicians feel that they have to apologize for something that they said just because they’ve gone through a 24 hour cycle of the mainstream media,’ she said. ‘Don’t apologize later just because the media has dinged ‘ya on what it is that you’ve said.’ She urged Gingrich, Ryan and the rest of the 2012 conservative contenders to tailor their campaigns to avoid the ‘lame-stream media.’” http://abcn.ws/jahpOS
Meanwhile, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels also cautioned those jumping to criticize Gingrich and his bumpy campaign start, according to ABC’s Katie Slaman. "I wouldn’t overreact to any one event. It’s going to be a long, long time. Every candidate will make mistakes and have their good days too,” he told ABC News affiliate WRTV after an event in Churubusco, Indiana yesterday. “You just have to recognize that if you enter such an environment you’ll make mistakes and you’ll say things that when you think about them you wish you had said differently. I think we have to be a little bit forgiving.” http://abcn.ws/j8LwbU
PLOUFFE PUSHING NEW MEDIA STRATEGY FOR OBAMA 2012. “When Barack Obama traveled to Texas this month to talk immigration, David Plouffe, his top message guru, decided to stay home and watch Twitter instead,” Time Magazine’s Michael Scherer writes. “While Obama spoke, Plouffe sat before two flat-screen televisions in the White House complex. One showed live footage of Obama in El Paso. The other flickered with a lightning-quick vertical ticker tape of people tweeting with the #immigration hashtag, reacting line by line to the President in real time. ‘I find it useful,’ Plouffe says, ‘to see what's penetrating.’ … It is hard to imagine David Axelrod, who preceded Plouffe as senior adviser to the President, getting quite so excited about Twitter. Axelrod, a rumpled ex-hack, approached his task like a humanities professor, always retelling and refining the Obama narrative. Plouffe, who served as Obama's 2008 campaign manager, is an engineer, more interested in data, numbers and quantifiable metrics than in storytelling. He uses the word cume as a verb — meaning ‘to build up a cumulative audience’ — and describes other people as ‘influence hubs.’ … With the 2012 campaign approaching, Plouffe is looking for every opportunity to sharpen Obama's edge. He has leaned heavily on the 10-person department that handles digital outreach and launched efforts to interact with the public, including a series called Advise the Adviser, in which citizens are invited to write in policy recommendations. He has also issued calls for Americans to organize roundtables, using online White House tools, to discuss immigration policy. ‘There is no guarantee that you are going to get any of those people through any other means,’ he says, noting shrinking audiences for TV news.” http://ti.me/iHUbQr
DEMOCRATS RE-NAME GOP, ‘GRAND OIL PARTY’ IN ATTACK OVER GAS PRICES. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee today is launching what it calls the “Gas Prices Action Center” on a new website, http://thegrandoilparty.com/ The site features a widget to that will display gas prices in your area as well as online petition to “tell Speaker Boehner and House Republicans to end tax breaks for Big Oil once and for all.” “Again and again the Grand Oil Party (GOP) Members have voted to end Medicare and protect billions of dollars in taxpayer giveaways to Big Oil while American families are squeezed with surging prices at the pump,” the DCCC’s Jesse Ferguson, said in a statement. “We are stepping up our efforts to help middle class families beat Big Oil and the Grand Oil Party — by getting the cheapest price at the pump and by fighting to end these taxpayer giveaways.”
REPUBLICANS REJECTING DEMS’ DEBT LIMIT WARNINGS. “House Republican leaders have spent a lot of time lately assuring Wall Street that they understand the calamitous consequences that would result from a default on the nation’s debt,” Politico’s Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman note. “But at an economic forum here in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s hometown, ‘Main Street’ business leaders didn’t seem to have much interest in the issue that preoccupies Washington, New York and other cities concerned with high finance. Rather than the nation’s account ledger, they talked about issues that affect their own ledgers: gas prices, government regulation and tax policy. Even liberal activists who confronted Cantor after the event wanted to pick fights on abortion rights and public radio funding. Cantor didn’t bring up the debt limit, either. It all speaks to a festering problem for the Obama administration: Its sense of urgency over the debt limit isn’t catching on with Republicans — or with voters. Republican lawmakers and aides tell POLITICO that the debt-limit increase is in danger, in part, because it’s not a major issue of concern for most voters. On top of that, Republicans say, the White House has undermined its own credibility by moving the expected date of default repeatedly, giving them little confidence in pronouncements of impending disaster.” http://politi.co/ifgVwh
REDISTRICTING TIMELINE KEEPS LAWMAKERS GUESSING. “Some House Members will be facing a tough choice later this cycle once their states’ new Congressional maps are finished: For them, it’s either up or out,” Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz reports. “Depending on how the boundaries are redrawn in their respective House districts, running for statewide office might be a better option than trying to run for re-election. It’s a particularly vital interest for Republicans, who are largely playing offense this cycle with 23 Senate seats held by Democrats on the ballot. The GOP is still seeking top candidate recruits in Washington, West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania — states that are all expected to finish their Congressional maps late in the game. However, it’s also a consideration for Democrats, who are still looking for a top-tier challenger to Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).” http://bit.ly/krjusE
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
* Get The Note delivered to your inbox every day.