Romney vs. Huntsman: The Turf War is On

By Eliza

Jul 7, 2011 4:17pm

ABC News' Sarah Kunin (@Sarah_Kunin) reports:

It began with a handshake. When former Governors Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman crossed paths for the first time as presidential candidates on Monday, the undertones of a deep-rooted rivalry began to show. “Welcome to New Hampshire,” Romney said to Huntsman, as if welcoming a foreigner to his hometown.

The confrontation seemed to end there. But then Romney moved in for the kill, announcing the support of 63 Utah officials. The turf war had officially begun.

“These endorsements represent the deep level of support that I have enjoyed over the years in Utah,” said Romney in a press release distributed Wednesday. “I formed a strong bond with many Utah residents and officials during my time running the Olympics and continue to appreciate the support of so many in the state.”

The lowest blow to Huntsman came from Rep Jason Chaffetz, once chief of staff to the former Utah Governor, who will now back Romney’s presidential campaign.

"Mitt Romney is in the best position to beat [President] Barack Obama, and I really want to beat Barack Obama," Chaffetz said to the Salt Lake Tribune. "I think he’s the best horse in the race to win… I had this discussion with Jon [Huntsman] last week. It was tough for me, but I was honest and candid that I’m going to support Mitt Romney."

Huntsman’s camp remained silent on Wednesday, electing not to respond when asked for a comment on Romney’s announcement.  

But on Thursday, team Huntsman came out swinging, releasing their own press release of supporters in Massachusetts—make that “massacusetts”—they spelled the name of the state wrong.

“Today, Jon Huntsman for President announced its Massachusetts leadership team,” the press release said. “Former Massachusetts State Party Chairman Jim Rappaport will serve as Huntsman's Massacusetts Chairman and Northeast Regional Co-Chair. Peter Monaco and Peter Malone will serve as Massachusetts Finance Co-Chairs and will be joined by Rice Powell on the Northeast Regional Finance Team.”

Yes, Huntsman pulled 4 people away from the former Massachusetts governor, though as The Daily Caller notes, these new supporters were never huge Romney fans in the first place.

“Mitt Romney would say one thing in a meeting and literally go out of the meeting to the press and tell the opposite story,” Rappaport, the former head of the Massachusetts Republican Committee told reporters in 2008. “There was no desire in the legislature to be accommodating to him because they couldn’t trust him.” 

Rappaport also shares a storied past with Romney. He tried to become the former Governor's running mate in 2002, but Romney selected Kerry Healy instead. 

Huntsman did manage to nab one more person away from Romney, though the discovery may have been by accident.  State Representative Paul Ray, who was included on Romney’s initial Utah supporter list, issued a statement late Wednesday saying that he in fact endorses Huntsman.

“I firmly believe that Jon Huntsman is the candidate best prepared to defeat President Obama and turn our country around,” Ray said.

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