With poor poll percentages and even worse fundraising numbers, there’s no denying that these days Jon Huntsman could use a little public relations pick-me-up.
On Monday, the former governor swapped out the New Hampshire house party circuit for Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” in an effort to obtain the popularity propellant that is “The Colbert bump.”
“I like you,” host Stephen Colbert said to Huntsman. “I like the cut of your jib. I don’t know what a jib is but I like the way you cut it.”
“In recent polls you are at two percent. Are you ready for the Colbert bump?” Colbert asked.
“I am so ready for the Colbert bump,” Huntsman answered.
Colbert continued, “Governor you may be at two percent. We’re going to get you up to whole milk.”
Huntsman’s appearance on the show allowed him to reach out to Colbert’s key 18-49 demographic, discussing his experience in politics and the private sector to an entirely new audience. However, it was a joke Huntsman made about China, the country where he served as ambassador for two years, that caused the crowd to groan.
When Colbert played a sound effect of a stereotypical Chinese riff, Huntsman joked, “When’s the delivery food coming?” After a few seconds of awkward silence, Colbert replied, “Did that go over well in Beijing?” This portion of the interview was cut for time from the broadcast.
“There was a gasp,” audience member Dana Cole told ABC News. “A little tasteless. No one really saw it coming. He got ahead of himself. ”
“I think he was just really nervous honestly,” said Zach Zirlin, who was also in the crowd. “He was just trying to humanize himself a little bit … I think he brings a very fresh face to the Republican Party. All the past candidates were not easy to relate to and he seems more human than the rest.”
Huntsman quickly won back the group again after Colbert asked him to say something in Mandarin.
“I just said I’d think you ought to consider being my running mate for vice president,” Huntsman said as the crowd erupted into applause.
Colbert then asked Huntsman about comments made by Pastor Robert Jeffress, the Rick Perry event speaker who referred to Mormonism as a cult.
“There’s been a lot of ugly talk in the campaign lately about the faith that you and Mitt Romney share — Mormonism,” Colbert said. “What do you make of people calling Mormonism a cult? And by the way, I’m a Catholic, You’re a Mormon. Let’s not argue over who’s right and who is not a Catholic.”
“Well first of all you get in a whole lot of trouble talking about religion so you should never go there, particularly when you’re seeking votes and you’re running for public office,” Huntsman replied. “But let me say when John F. Kennedy ran in 1960, what were people calling Catholicism? A cult. So they come out they become more mainstream, John F. Kennedy wins and the religion goes mainstream. It’s probably the same thing with Mormonism. It will become more mainstream overtime as people kind of look at it and understand it a bit better.”
“We feel very excited about ‘The Colbert bump’,” Huntsman’s spokesman Tim Miller told ABC News before the former governor’s appearance. “The show should be fun for everyone involved and Governor Huntsman is excited at the prospect of getting into the nitty gritty of his tax reform proposal with Stephen.”
Colbert first coined his “Colbert bump” neologism to reference the success that several politicians found after being interviewed on his show. While no evidence directly links Colbert’s Midas touch with improved election results, Professor James H. Fowler of the University of California, San Diego found that an appearance on “The Colbert Report” may in fact bolster fundraising efforts for certain politicians.
Professor Fowler explained his 2008 research methodology to ABC News: “In this article I use “facts” (sorry, Stephen) provided by the Federal Election Commission to create a matched control group of candidates who have never appeared on The Colbert Report. I then compare the personal campaign donations they receive to those received by candidates who have appeared on the program’s segment ‘Better Know a District.’
“The results show that Democratic candidates who appear on the Report receive a statistically significant ‘Colbert bump’ in campaign donations, raising 44 percent more money in a 30-day period after appearing on the show. However, there is no evidence of a similar boost for Republicans. These results constitute the first scientific evidence of Stephen Colbert’s influence on political campaigns,” Fowler said.
Regardless of whether or not Huntsman’s interview translates into increased campaign fundraising, the former governor can certainly benefit from some screen time. Earlier this month, Huntsman passed on the opportunity to appear at CNN’s Western Leadership Presidential Debate in Las Vegas to boycott an early Nevada caucus.
According to Nielsen ratings, the debate earned 5.5 million total viewers, whereas Colbert averages around 1.5 million viewers a night.