Former Utah governor and GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman on Thursday used Twitter to respond to comments made by Texas Governor Rick Perry on global warming and evolution. If his strategy was an attempt to set himself apart from his opponents, it may have worked.
“To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy,” Huntsman posted on Twitter.
Huntsman sent the tweet soon after Perry was asked about both topics while campaigning in New Hampshire. Perry’s spokesman Mark Miner said Huntsman was “entitled to his opinion” but that Perry believes students should learn about both creation and evolution.
During a campaign stop on Thursday, a mother was encouraging her son to ask Perry about his stance on evolution. “Ask him why he doesn’t believe in science?”
“Here your mom was asking about evolution, and you know it’s a theory that’s out there, and it’s got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools,” Perry said to the boy. “Because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.”
While on the surface it appears Huntsman is trying to draw Perry into a debate on evolution and global warming, insiders say his real objective is to make Perry appear to be an extremist – someone who is unelectable in a general election – but also to gain the attention he so desperately needs at this point.
Clemson University political science professor Laura Olson agrees.
“Huntsman is clearly a moderate and has to set himself apart,” Olson said. “He hasn’t gotten a lot of attention and has to find some way to stick out from the crowd. What Huntsman is doing is interesting – to the extent that folks are paying attention.”
At the same time, GOP strategists know that evolution, global warming and homosexual marriages aren’t hot button issues for Republican grass roots voters, and if candidates want to consistently talk about them, they may find little support.
“Evangelicals will have an enormous impact in the Republican primary,” said Olson. “Whether or not they come out to vote depends on how angry they are with Obama and if the GOP nominee can mobilize them. Remember, whoever wins needs to be strong on both fiscal and social issues. No one knows who that is just yet.”
Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller told Business Insider that indeed the point of the tweet was straightforward: “[Huntsman] is positioning himself as he always has – as a truth-teller … Voters are looking for an authentic conservative … He also believes in civil unions, and in the scientific validity of global warming. He’s not going to shy away from those beliefs in an attempt to pander for votes.”
Campaign strategist Nick Walters is a bit perplexed on what exactly Huntsman is trying to convey.
“I don’t quite understand where he’s going with all this … in advocating his acceptance of gay marriage, global warming and evolution,” Walters said. “I mean, this is the Republican primary and even if you find a few folks who agree with you in New Hampshire, I don’t think you’ll find as many in South Carolina, Georgia or heaven forbid, Texas. That talk won’t fly in the south.”
Walters thinks Huntsman may be trying to taint Perry before he goes after Romney. Huntsman also wants to draw attention to Mitt Romney’s unprincipled stances and consistent flip-flops.
“Look, both Romney and Huntsman are Mormon and Huntsman really doesn’t want to go after Romney that hard. But in the end, he’s got to if he wants to move above the low single digits in the polls.”
The strategy behind the tweet may be working. The Huntsman campaign said the number of people now following him went up by about 4,000 after the message was sent.