Jon Huntsman's newly minted presidential campaign faced criticism from economic conservatives this week, with the release of a new report from an influential free-market group that called his spending record as governor "inexcusable."
The Club for Growth unveiled a paper on the former Utah governor's economic record that did single him out for some praise on the tax-cutting front. But the the governor lost major points with the group for increasing state spending during his tenure.
"Between his inexcusable record on spending and his statement that 'health care is a right', Governor Huntsman has a lot of explaining to do if he wants to win the Republican nomination," said Chris Chocola, the Club's president. "We believe that pro-growth conservatives looking for a kindred spirit in Governor Huntsman will probably find common ground on trade and taxes, but they will most likely be disappointed overall if he is elected president."
The paper is part of an ongoing Club of Growth series that ranks all the GOP candidates on issues such spending, taxing, trade and regulation. Of the eight assessments that the Club has so far handed out in the 2012 GOP field, Huntsman's is the least complimentary.
"By the end of 2006, Governor Huntsman had proposed the largest budget in state history," the report reads, drawing heavily from the libertarian Cato Institute's biennial Fiscal Report Card on America's Governors that awarded Huntsman an 'A' on taxes but an 'F' on spending that year.
On health care policy, the group says that Huntsman's past comments on government's role in providing care and his actions as a policymaker are "very concerning." The Club ranking contends that Huntsman's state health care initiatives contain "similarities with ObamaCare and with health care reform in Massachusetts"--among them, government-run health care market exchanges.
Huntsman hasn't received an enthusiastic reception from social conservatives--another important Republican bloc. Despite his conservative views on abortion, his record on climate change and gay civil unions are enough to keep some social conservatives from embracing him so far. It certainly doesn't look like he'll be winning an endorsement from Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for the "traditional family unit and the Judeo-Christian value system" according to its website.
"Huntsman backs civil unions, [embryonic stem cell research], individual mandate & is doted on by GOProud," Tony Perkin said in a Tuesday tweet. "So he's going to primary Obama then?" (GOProud is a gay conservative group. Chris Barron, the group's chairman, says he personally supports Herman Cain.)
Similarly, in an interview with The Daily Beast this week, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage said the group finds Huntsman's history of support for civil unions "troubling."
With his campaign now under way, Huntsman will likely spend the next year wooing the people these organizations represent, since it's very unlikely that he would prevail in the GOP primaries without their support.