Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman talks on the phone on the side of the road on Jan. 09, 2012 in Newport, N.H. 
Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty

Huntsman: Kasich ‘a better candidate than I was’

Updated

Since the minute he announced his campaign, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has faced frequent comparisons to former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the 2012 Republican contender who employed many of the same top advisers, ran on a similarly moderate message, and also bet his White House bid on victory in New Hampshire.

Kasich is not a fan of the theory. As it turns out, Huntsman isn’t too fond of it either. 

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“He’s a better candidate than I was,” Huntsman told MSNBC in an interview on Monday in New Hampshire, where the ex-governor was hosting a bipartisan presidential forum with his group No Labels.  

Like Kasich, Huntsman was among the most popular governors in the country at the start of the election cycle. Unlike Kasich, he left the job behind to accept an appointment as ambassador to China, making him one of the most prominent Republicans in the Obama administration. 

“I came from the world of diplomacy where I’d worked for a Democrat, a Democrat who wasn’t widely admired by the Republican base, which is something I’d do all over again because I believe in putting your country first,” Huntsman said. “[Kasich] is an active governor in a critical swing state, high popularity, he’s been able to get a lot done, he’s got the template of a very successful candidate and possible president.” 

Still, even Huntsman acknowledged there are some parallels between them.

“People, I think, are only making that connection based maybe on our non-traditional approach to traditional Republican issues, which is to say we need to broaden the base, we need to talk about more things in a different way,” Huntsman said. “Even if the base doesn’t necessarily want to hear that, we got to make sure – as Ronald Reagan did in 1980 – that we appeal to a larger constituency. Otherwise the mathematics of electoral politics just won’t work for you.” 

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Huntsman said Kasich’s best chance of success with that message was to win New Hampshire or finish near the top, then build on his momentum. After a bump over the summer, Kasich is currently in the middle of the pack in the state – a RealClearPolitics average of recent polls puts his support at 7.7%. 

Huntsman, who went for the same Granite State approach, bowed out after finishing third with 16.9% of the vote – significantly better than rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, but not enough to sustain a longer run. 

“If we had another week or two I think we would have punched through and knocked off Ron Paul and gotten second,” he said. 

The biggest thing he took from the race, however, was that fundraising plays too large a role in politics – especially when it comes to super PACs that can raise unlimited money.

“I think it’s a cancer that’s destroying this country,” Huntsman said of the current campaign finance laws. “I know exactly what people want in exchange for the contribution. I’ve lived it, I’ve done the clinical trials on it so to speak, and I think it needs to be remedied.”

Huntsman proposed Congress find a way to empower small donors as a counterweight to big money groups, either through tax credits or matching funds, citing one bill by Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes as a possible model. 

John Kasich and Jon Huntsman

Huntsman: Kasich 'a better candidate than I was'

Updated