When sisters Mary Anne, Abby and Liddy Huntsman posted a video parody of another candidate’s campaign ad, their parents were not the first to know.
“We sent it to Mom and Dad at the exact same time we sent it out online,” said Mary Anne at a UMass Lowell student forum, Campaigning for Dad, on Dec. 19. Their dad, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, recently ambassador to China in the Obama administration, is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
“We knew the girls were up to something, but not what,” said Huntsman’s wife, Mary Kaye, who replaced Abby at the forum due to illness. “The girls add a lightheartedness to the campaign and they are passionately involved.”
The video went viral, feeding widespread interest in the daughters’ Twitter feed at John2012girls.
Boston Herald reporters Katy Jordan and Hillary Chabot moderated the event, which was hosted by the Herald and UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion, directed by Political Science Prof. Francis Talty.
The Media Spotlight
Graduate student Seth Izen, of the Peace and Conflict Studies program, asked why their father is not a front-runner.
“Father is a person who can bring all persons together,” said Mary Anne, describing his record in Utah. “It’s better to be the last front-runner than not.”
The Republican party “forgot to take a first look” at Huntsman, according to his wife, because he was perceived as a line-crosser.
“He stepped out to serve his country at a time of critical need,” said Mary Kaye. “He had the business experience and political experience needed for China, and he speaks fluent Mandarin.”
Asked by student trustee James Tarr about how Huntsman reconciles his more moderate streak with the “fringe group that has taken over the Republican party,” Mary Anne said, “Look at his record. My dad is the most conservative candidate on stage. His record has been mislabeled. He doesn’t pander to other’s beliefs and people respect him for that.”
“He’s the modern-day politician,” added Liddy. “He has a moderate attitude about life, but he stays the same on principles and values.”
The Social Media Effect
Will social media interest translate into votes? The daughters don’t know for sure.
“We’ve seen messages every day, that ‘now I’m following your tweets and I’m going to vote for your dad’,” said Mary Anne.
“It’s worth it to put out our own message,” said Liddy, who missed her own college graduation in May to work on the campaign. Huntsman’s polling numbers in New Hampshire have risen from zero to 13 percent, according to the family.
Asked what they hear back from voters on Twitter, Liddy said, “People write, ‘We love your dad and he is the only sane candidate’.”
That comment was echoed by a member of the audience. After the event, student Merisa Frechette noted she’s a Democrat who likes what she sees in Jon Huntsman among the candidates in the GOP field.
“I was really interested to come today,” she said. “He’s really the only one who comes across sane and reasonable.”