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Jon Huntsman's big day, Republicans and Mormons and trouble for Utah's Orrin Hatch

June 21, 2011 |  4:22 am

Jon Huntsman and wife Mary Kaye greet a motorcycle rider in New Hampshire, 6-11

Some elected folks we know have confessed that the best day of any election campaign is the day a candidate announces. All things seem possible. Optimism reigns. The usually nattering media is attentive.

Today Jon Huntsman, who's been registering near zero on the scale of Republican name-recognition, gets his shot at the best day of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

The former Utah governor and overseas ambassador for two presidents will launch his bid in New Jersey near the Statue of Liberty and then fly up to New Hampshire to do it again in the nation's first primary state.

Wednesday Huntsman will do it a third time in South Carolina, apparently leaving Iowa to the homegrown Michele Bachmann and next-door neighbor Tim Pawlenty. It will be interesting to see how Huntsman, the only major GOP candidate with any real foreign policy experience, tries to differentiate himself from the possible candidates like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the existing field, including fellow former governor and Mormon Mitt Romney.

Speaking of Mormons, good news for Romney and Huntsman: A recent Gallup Poll found Republicans to be the political affiliation most open to supporting a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the voting booth.Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch

Fully 80% of GOP voters said they could vote for a Mormon, while a near identical 79% of independents agreed. However, only 71% of Democrats said they could vote for a Mormon.

The biggest difference in sentiment appeared in education level, with the more educated open to a Mormon candidate and the lesser educated less so.

Speaking of Mormon candidates, at this time last year one of the most endangered politicians seeking reelection was the nation's highest-ranking Mormon, Harry Reid, Democratic Senate Majority Leader. As it happened, he ended up having little trouble winning a fifth term from Nevada.

Now comes word that a senior Republican senator, Orrin Hatch of next-door Utah, may be in some trouble going for a seventh term in the general election, even if he survives a primary challenge. Last year, you may recall, Utah Republicans dumped Hatch's junior colleague Robert Bennett for Mike Lee.

A poll out last weekend from the Deseret News/KSL-TV finds that 59% of Utah voters feel it's time for a change after 36 years of Hatch. In a matchup against his most likely GOP challenger, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republicans are virtually tied at 41% Chaffetz and 40% Hatch.

Even if Hatch survived that contest, the new poll finds that the man who became a senator at the end of Gerald Ford's presidency would as of now barely tie his likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Jim Matheson, at 47% apiece.


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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Brian Snyder / Reuters (Huntsman and wife Mary Kaye greet a New Hampshire voter); Associated Press (Hatch).