He’s announcing for president today, so it’s timely to talk about him despite the fact he’s got virtually zero real support and isn’t a viable candidate for the GOP nomination.
The subject isn’t his use of the cynical, conservative-hating John Weaver as his chief campaign consultant, or his plans to run a campaign about nothing. Or the fact that he served as Obama’s ambassador to China while making plans to run against Obama – which either makes him disloyal to the president or shamelessly careerist.
Nope. Today we’re talking about Huntsman’s weekend vote-buying spree for the RLC straw poll, in which he got 382 votes to finish a “surprising” second place. Ron Paul’s 612 votes won the poll, and much has been discussed about the methods Paul’s campaign used to generate those totals – after all, Paul spams straw polls on a constant basis.
As Mark Parham and Mike Bayham have written here at the Hayride over the past couple of days, Paul’s followers are more Cult Of Personality types than conservative activists. The rude college kids who heckle other Republican speakers at RLC or the offbeat types who accuse non-Ronulans of being “progressives” or “statists” over issues like the Patriot Act or Afghanistan can’t be counted on to work – or even vote – to defeat Barack Obama next fall should their man not get the nomination.
But Paul’s people are at least Paul’s. They at least showed up at RLC to raise the roof when the elderly libertarian was speaking, to heckle other candidates and to vote in the straw poll.
That’s not what Huntsman’s campaign produced at RLC. POLITICO has a couple of stories unraveling a poorly-disguised spam job. The first…
Perhaps the biggest surprise at last weekend’s Republican Leadership Conference was the second-place straw poll finish of Jon Huntsman.
He bailed out on his scheduled appearance, is little known among the conservative activists who dominated the event and his closest competitors for the non-Ron Paul vote were grass-roots favorites Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain.
So how did he snag so many votes?
Partly due to the effort of a New Orleans Republican named Bryan Wagner.
An influential former city councilor and big McCain backer, Wagner is close to former Rep. Joseph Cao.
POLITICO’s Jonathan Martin couldn’t get any straight answers out of Wagner about how the Huntsman vote was generated…
But when pressed about who paid for the registration of the pro-Huntsman voters, Wagner grew defensive.
He flatly denied purchasing any tickets but wouldn’t say who did put up the money for the Huntsman voters.
“I can’t speak for everybody on the campaign,” he said.
Wagner, did though, confirm that there were two separate groups of Huntsman backers brought into the conference: his friends and associates from the New Orleans area and another group from out of town.
“I had nothing to do with the bus,” he revealed.
After repeated attempts to get him to clarify where the tickets came from, Wagner hung up the phone.
Huntsman’s campaign denied that they had provided Wagner with tickets and won’t say how they got their supporters to the event.
Martin then managed to get hold of an e-mail from Brett Bonin, an associate of Wagner’s who serves on the Orleans Parish School board, which unraveled the story a little more…
A Louisiana GOP source who saw my earlier item sends over an email that Brett Bonin, a New Orleans school board member and associate of the Bryan Wagner individual I interviewed, blasted out ahead of the straw poll last week. As Wagner explained before hanging up, he and Bonin helped deliver votes for Huntsman.
But some Louisiana Republicans are unhappy because, as the email twice gets at, it wasn’t just Republicans who were brought in to vote for Huntsman.
Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2011 19:17:57 -0500
Subject: INSIDER INVITATION
To Team Bonin,
I have a very special invitation to all, regardless of party affiliation. I am hosting a free insider’s look at the Republican Southern Leadership Conference this Saturday.
Anyone who is interested will meet at Lakeview Harbor at 9:00 am, we will board a free bus for the conference at 9:30 sharp, free tickets to the conference are included, we will go to the conference, meet with an insider from a presidential campaign, participate in conference, participate in a straw poll, then head back to Lakeview harbor for refreshments. There is no cost involved and it does not matter what your party affiliation is. The whole thing should last between two to three hours.
I have a limited number of invitations and it will be first come, first served. Anyone who is interested should reply to this email immediately with your name, cell number, email address, and city/parish you are from.
Sent from Brett A. Bonin’s iPhone
Free bus, free tickets, free food. You get the picture.
Basically, Huntsman – through the contacts from McCain’s old people he’s hired – used some campaign operatives and a big chunk of cash to truck in people who don’t even know who Huntsman is to vote in that poll.
That’s a lot less legitimate than what Paul does at these events. At least Paul put in the work to create his cult followers. Word is he subsidized many of them, but Huntsman flat-out bought a vote he didn’t earn.
Back in 2008, Democrat Hillary Clinton supporters were screaming that the Obama campaign was paying, feeding and trucking in SEIU and ACORN people from Chicago to caucuses like the one in Iowa (and several others) in an attempt to round up a delegate count. That was an abuse of the electoral process which is certainly worse than what Huntsman did over the weekend.
But it’s still the same kind of manipulation, and it’s pretty obvious the former Utah governor has learned well from his old boss.