Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman is getting a boost in New Hampshire from outside supporters who are paying for television ads to begin airing Tuesday that promote his two terms as Utah governor and service as U.S. ambassador to China.
The Our Destiny PAC, which supports Huntsman, on Monday ordered cable and broadcast advertising buys for a minute-long spot promoting Huntsman's biography and branding his better known rivals as "phony."
The ad is the first from a so-called super PAC in New Hampshire and it signals that Huntsman's deep-pocketed friends are willing to open their wallets to help a campaign that's struggling to gain traction.
"The world is literally collapsing and no one has shown up we can trust as a conservative, who actually has a chance to win, and not some phony who tells me one thing and you another. Where's that guy?" voters say in the ad.
It echoes the rhetoric of Huntsman's campaign and could give it a lift. The ad, however, overlooks the fact Huntsman holds positions to the left of his rivals; for instance, he supports civil unions for gay couples and believes humans have a role in climate change. Such position set him apart from his rivals and perhaps apart from conservatives in his party who view him as too liberal to be the nominee.
In the first few months after Huntsman returned from Beijing, he promoted himself as someone who could break the gridlock between Democrats and Republicans given his service in three Republican administrations and under President Barack Obama.
But his post-partisan luster quickly faded and he has remained at the back of the pack, stuck in single digits in the polls.
Although Huntsman hails from a wealthy family and has a sizeable fortune of his own, he has struggled to raise money and was forced to pour some of his own dollars into the campaign to make payroll. He shed consultants and staff _ including his top New Hampshire aide _ and moved his campaign headquarters from Orlando, Fla., to Manchester, N.H., in a reflection of the state's central plank in his strategy for winning the GOP presidential nomination.
Even before that move, though, Huntsman was a regular presence here. When he returns Tuesday for another three-day swing, his first event _ a town hall meeting in Portsmouth _ will be Huntsman's 100th New Hampshire campaign appearance.
"We've been aggressive. One hundred events is a good milestone, but there will be a lot more before primary day," spokesman Michael Levoff said. "New Hampshire is our top priority."
While Huntsman's campaign has yet to spend money on the airwaves, the super PAC investment helps address his greatest weakness here. Despite an aggressive campaign schedule, he still isn't particularly well known. The campaign has acknowledged a need to boost name recognition, and it was long assumed that Huntsman would be among the first candidates to buy television advertising to raise his profile.
Tuesday's ad was a first step toward that.
"The president's failed. The economy is worse. The stock market's a wreck. Are we the next Greece?" the ad says. "Our government is flabby, bloated and week. Health care reform? Toss it. Got a job? Sure you'll have it next week?"
The group behind it, Our Destiny political action committee, has no formal connection to Huntsman's campaign and is freed from traditional fundraising limits, meaning Huntsman's billionaire father could bankroll the spot as much as he wants. Like other similar groups, this one will not be required to disclose its donors until Jan. 31, well after the lead-off contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Super PACs stem from a recent Supreme Court decision that allows corporations, unions and individuals to spend unlimited amounts on campaigns as long as they don't coordinate with the candidates.
Such groups are expected to play a major role in next year's election, with seven of the eight Republican presidential candidates and Obama having super PACs dedicated to spreading their messages. Just last week, an organization dubbed Solutions 2012 was established to aid former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Some candidates, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, have multiple super PACs.
One Perry super PAC, Make Us Great Again, has aired ads in Iowa and South Carolina and has pledged to raise as much as $55 million. Restore Our Future, the super PAC behind Mitt Romney, raised $12 million in the first six months of this year.
There has been no sign to date of the negative advertising war that some feared. But with voting set to begin in New Hampshire and Iowa in less than two months, the super PACs could become very active very quickly.
Elliott reported from Washington.