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The Pulse: Huntsman: A candidate who could win in Pa.

If I were holed up in a political science lab trying to design the optimal Republican candidate to run against Barack Obama, I'd aim for someone well-suited to win the Philadelphia suburbs.

If I were holed up in a political science lab trying to design the optimal Republican candidate to run against Barack Obama, I'd aim for someone well-suited to win the Philadelphia suburbs.

Carry Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties and you will likely carry the commonwealth. Be the first GOP presidential aspirant to win Pennsylvania since George H.W. Bush in 1988 and your chances of winning the White House are significantly increased.

So what ingredients should we mix? How about intelligence, perhaps personified by an Ivy League degree (preferably from Penn, for some local affinity)?

The country can ill afford a neophyte, so we require executive experience, like having been the chief executive of a state.

Given the economy, business bona fides would be an asset, maybe something like a stint in the Commerce Department.

With the volatility of the world and the emerging superpower status of China, this candidate better be skilled in diplomacy and know a thing or two about Beijing.

He or she should be fiscally conservative but not doctrinaire on social issues. Gun ownership would help in certain quarters. And we have an affinity for characters, so behavior like riding a Harley or even playing rock music would be welcomed. (Maybe it's too tall an order, but our area has always had an affinity for progressive rock, à la Genesis and Yes.)

Finally, there's no need for bombast. We'd welcome a person with a record of working with folks on the other side of the aisle, a practitioner of that dirty word in the modern political lexicon: civility.

Jon Huntsman embodies all of those characteristics.

Thus far, the former Utah governor has run a textbook campaign - for how to present oneself in a general election, not a primary.

Everything that distinguishes him with an electorate looking for balance and moderation is an anathema to primary voters. Which is why, unless something changes, most of the country will never even get the chance to vote on a Huntsman candidacy.

How does he plan to overcome that?

"All I want is for people to look beyond the labels everybody's got to slap on their forehead," Huntsman told me during an interview Friday. "Look beyond the labels. Look at my record. You know, you might not like 100 percent of it. I am what I am. The record is what it is. I'm not going to morph and contort myself into something I am not."

Huntsman, 51, is a motorcycle-riding, keyboard-playing father of seven who graduated from Penn in 1987. He was an immensely popular executive in Utah. His foreign-policy experience includes a stint as ambassador to Singapore when he was just 32. Earlier this year, he resigned as Obama's ambassador to China to run for president.

He calls himself a "mainstream conservative," but his brand of conservatism went out long before Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell.

Huntsman supported civil unions.

He believes climate change is for real.

He supported compromise plans to raise the debt ceiling.

He would like our troops out of Afghanistan - quickly.

He believes in evolution, calling it "part of God's plan."

He thinks U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's promise to lower gasoline prices to $2 a gallon is not grounded in the real world.

He's more prone to cutting tax rates for individuals and corporations and significantly simplifying the country's tax system, all of which were a part of the economic plan he released Wednesday.

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry said it would be "almost treasonous" for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to print more money, Huntsman retorted: "I'm not sure that the average voter out there is going to hear that 'treasonous' remark and say, 'That sounds like a presidential candidate, that sounds like someone who is serious on the issues.' "

But Hunstman's criticisms are not vituperative. He regards his opponents as "all good people."

And (worst of all to the GOP base) he told CNN's Piers Morgan that President Obama is a "good man, he is earnest, but he has failed us on the most important issue of our day."

All of which is why, when I asked former Gov. Ed Rendell who would be the most formidable GOP candidate to run in the Philly 'burbs, he put Huntsman at the top of the list. I think he's right, based on what I've heard about the candidate so far and his response to me Friday on whether he had a sense of what Southeastern Pennsylvania voters were looking for.

"These are people who want straight-up, commonsense solutions," Huntsman told me. "They don't have any time for political sideshows. They get what the future holds. They know the challenge of the 21st century and our position now entering the second decade in it, and they want someone who can stand up with real ideas and a bold vision. I get that part."

The economic plan he unveiled last week is clearly designed to address those challenges - and voters.

"We have hit the wall," he said. "We have no choice other than take some pretty bold, big-picture measures. What I'm going to lay out for you is going to call for dramatic tax reform. It's going to call for dramatic approaches at getting the regulatory red tape out of the way. It's going to call for basically repositioning ourselves in the world for the 21st century. Why we've got 100,000 troops in Afghanistan nation-building when we've got to do some nation-building here is beyond me. But it's what the nation needs. We can't take half-measures. We can't take half-steps. We've got to do something big and bold, and that's what our most recent economic jobs proposal is all about."