Mitt Romney is not a personal favorite among certain members of the Jon Huntsman clan. If the former Massachusetts governor manages to win the Republican presidential nomination, it’s doubtful whether they’d even support him.
“I don’t know,” Mary Anne Huntsman, a 26-year-old piano teacher, muses tentatively.
“Absolutely not!” chimes in her 23-year-old sister, Liddy, a recent college grad hoping to enter the fashion biz. “And I’ll tell you my reasons—”
“Is this on the record?” 25-year-old Abby Huntsman interrupts with a worried look, befitting a media-savvy former Good Morning America booker and public- relations handler who, like her sisters, is volunteering full time on her father’s campaign.
As usual, Liddy barrels ahead. “If you’re looking at someone running for president,” she says, “you want to be able to trust them and know that they have the right intentions and that they have a heart and that they’re for the people. And I think with Romney, I just don’t trust him. I don’t trust his record. I don’t trust his character … I would have a difficult time voting at all.” (Barack Obama attack dog David Plouffe couldn’t have put it better himself.)
It’s Those Surprising Huntsman Girls—stumping for their dad and, frankly, getting a lot more traction in the media political complex than the former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China. Their first video, for instance, has received more than 200,000 views on YouTube, while their old man is languishing at 6 percent in New Hampshire, where he’s practically taken up residence and where his rival, Romney, holds a commanding lead.
“It’s been a very humbling experience for all of us,” Abby says. “Because you know he had a very successful win in Utah, and he was reelected with almost 80 percent of the vote.”
“After seeing what he did in the governorship and as ambassador,” Mary Anne adds, “it’s hard because we know how much he has to offer.”
“The hardest part,” Abby says, “is the fact that sometimes he’s not always resonating, especially with the Republican Party right now. It’s just a strange environment, and yet we know how much he has to offer. It’s just a difficult time, but also such an honor to help someone we believe in so strongly.”
Mary Anne agrees. “I think our party is so divided, more than ever before.”
“It’s frustrating for us to watch,” Liddy says. “Because, like with Occupy Wall Street, you have the left going so extreme, and you have the right going so extreme. People are clearly not happy with the system.”
Making the Huntsman sales pitch, Abby asserts: “There’s a silent majority who feel like they don’t have a roof to go under. Everywhere we go, people say, ‘Stay in there—you’re what we want.’ They’re independents, they’re Democrats. Our dad appeals to a broad base of people. But I think the Republicans are almost going to the extreme right now because they’re so anti-Obama. It’s frustrating because at the end of it you need someone with the electability factor, who can beat Obama and can also appeal to Democrats and independents.”
On a visit to the offices of The Daily Beast, the three eldest of the seven Huntsman kids come across as spirited, funny, down to earth, and good-looking—reminiscent of another trio of political sisters from an earlier presidential campaign (who were satirized in a Spy magazine comic strip as “Those Surprising Gore Girls”).
Mary Anne and Liddy are the blondes; Abby is the brunette. Mary Anne and Abby try (and often succeed) to be circumspect and on message; Liddy gives free rein to her bracing opinions and earthy sense of humor.
“I have the same sense of humor as my dad, but a little more crude and inappropriate,” Liddy explains, adding that she delights in tormenting the Huntsman campaign communications staff by sending them especially outrageous jokes, which she pretends she’d like to post on Twitter. “Absolutely not,” the communications professionals scold her. “But you don’t understand,” she counters. “Trust me. It’s really funny.” (We agree to keep her more ribald quips off the record.)
All of them speak foreign languages—Mary Anne is most fluent in Mandarin, having lived for two years in Beijing, and Liddy can converse in Japanese. Abby is recently married to a finance guy. Her sisters are single.
“Single and ready to mingle!” Liddy declares with a smirk. “I like long walks on the beach. I’m a good dancer.” She jokes: “Don’t put that in, because some people think that they’re dating me.”
Mary Anne, for her part, confides: “I am completely single. But I don’t know if you want to put ‘ready to mingle.’ ”
“We can give you her Match.com account number,” Abby threatens.
“She always signs me up for these!” Mary Anne groans with a roll of her eyes.
Abby reveals helpfully: “We signed her up for [the Mormon dating site] LDS Singles. That is the best because she gets all these emails, and she’s like, ‘Where are these coming from?’ ”
Mary Anne adds, “She also signed me up for [the Jewish site] JDate!”
Speaking of matters of the heart, what’s going on with all this flirting with the Romney boys on Twitter?
“Yeah, but we get nothing back,” Abby pouts. “They’re playing hard to get right now.”
Mary Anne allows, “I think Tagg—well, all of them are pretty handsome.”
“They’re handsome boys,” Abby agrees. “We’ve met Tagg a number of times and he’s very nice. We always say, ‘Tagg, you’re it!’ ” With mock sadness, she adds: “They’re all married.”
Liddy stops texting on her smartphone long enough to offer context: “We’re really immature. They’re married with kids and families, and we’re just immature and young.”
They say there’s a much better rapport, surprisingly enough, between their mother, also named Mary Anne, and Anita Perry, wife of the Texas governor. (Never mind that one of Rick Perry’s clergyman-supporters recently went out of his way to label the Mormon religion a cult.)
“My mom and his wife are actually very good friends,” Abby says, adding that they often email each other while sitting in the audience of those interminable yet terrifying televised debates. “They ask each other, ‘Are we going to be able to get through this?’ ”
The sisters agree that they could all support Perry if he turned out to be the nominee. But as for Romney and their dad, they might both be members of the Church of Latter Day Saints but “they’re just very different,” Mary Anne says.
“Like oil and vinegar,” Liddy says.
“People feel that they’re very similar,” Mary Anne says, “but if you were to sit down with each of them for an hour, you’d know right away how different their personalities are. The way they approach a situation is different.”
Unlike, Romney—who tailors his positions to the exigencies of politics, she says—“My dad says, ‘I’m just going to say this because I believe it.’” Huntsman, for instance, deviates from conservative orthodoxy by favoring civil unions for gay couples—a position not calculated to win him friends among the Christian right.
None of the sisters is a particularly devout Mormon—Liddy describes herself as irreligious, and Abby’s wedding was conducted by an Episcopal priest—and they say they wish a candidate’s faith was not a part of the political discussion.
“It’s a part of our life,” Mary Anne says. “But my parents never pressured us to do anything other than just be happy. My dad says [religion] is ‘my least favorite thing to talk about. It has nothing to do with who I am as a person or a candidate.’ But people are so curious about it.”
She and her sisters say they hope Republican primary voters ultimately focus on substance, the issues, and “who’s the smartest person for the office.”
But a strong dose of realism is never off the menu. Huntsman is a long shot, and his daughters are steeled for whatever the outcome. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mary Anne says. “No matter what happens, this has been such a great experience for our family. And we’ve never become so close as a family.”