Still hanging by a thread—that is, 1.3 percent of the Republican primary vote in national polls—former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has to make some big, intrepid moves if he's going to build momentum and get Americans on his side before the primary season. The jobs plan he's announcing today might just get the ball rolling. And, if his campaign is to have any real hope of surviving through the primary season, it had better.
Speaking at 4:30 p.m. at the Gilchrist Metal Fabricating plant in Hudson, N.H., Huntsman will roll out a jobs plan that, his campaign says, will encompass four broad policy areas: tax reform, regulatory reform, energy independence, and free trade. The campaign leaked part of the tax reform to reporters this morning that's already getting quite a bit of attention. While removing "all loopholes, deductions, and tax expenditures," the "revenue-neutral" proposal would set three individual tax brackets at 8, 14, and 23 percent, eliminate capital gains and dividends taxes, and get rid of the alternative minimum tax option. Huntsman would also lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.
As a revenue-neutral way to clean up the tax code—and perhaps more importantly bring down the tax rate for corporations and individuals as a job-creation strategy—Huntsman's plan would certainly appeal to most conservatives and help put him at a distance from Obama, his former boss. With campaign videos like this one, and recent interviews, he's certainly been trying to convince GOP primary voters that he's far from a lapdog to the president, as many have suggested. This plan, or at least the tax part, takes that effort a step further.
Indeed, Reuters columnist James Pethokoukis says that "this looks like perhaps the most pro-growth, pro-market (and anti-crony capitalist) tax plan put forward by a major U.S. president candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1980." But, he adds, cutting all tax expenditures could be a politically risky move for Huntsman, who will likely be put on defense regarding "a whole herd of sacred cows," like mortgage interest deduction, healthcare exclusion, and the child tax credit.
Still, the controversy could also work to his favor. The tax plan, at least, is bold, and at this point, Huntsman just needs attention—negative or positive—to get his name and his policies out to voters.
Alexander Burns from Politico also makes the point there's still no candidate to come out strongly on the nitty gritty of policy. And this plan, if detailed enough, could help propel Huntsman into the policy wonk candidate slot before anyone else gets the chance. After all, Huntsman, though last in the polls, is unveiling his plan well ahead of the pack. Romney's got his own jobs plan scheduled for release the day after Labor Day, and Obama is scheduled to present his own proposal to a joint session of Congress the day after that.
With five months left until the start of the primary season, Huntsman has a long way to go to catch up to party front-runners like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. If this jobs plan isn't the giant leap that takes him forward in the polls and with GOP voters, he could be out of the race for good.