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In race, Huntsman fights Romney cash juggernaut

Republican candidate for US President Huntsman addresses campaign workers and supporters at his national campaign headquarters in Orlando
Republican candidate for US President Huntsman addresses campaign workers and supporters at his national campaign headquarters in Orlando

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman is racing to find moderate Republican donors who have not been caught up in frontrunner Mitt Romney's fundraising juggernaut, which shows no signs of slowing.

Huntsman, President Barack Obama's former ambassador to China and former Utah governor, is battling Romney for the role of the business-friendly moderate in the race for the Republican nomination, appealing to similar types of voters and campaign donors.

But Huntsman lacks national name recognition, and with less than 2 percent support in the polls, he will need to make a strong showing in the money chase to break through.

Both Romney and Huntsman are Mormons, with deep roots in Utah where the church is based, and have been vying for support there as well as across the country.

Huntsman was a popular governor, and his family is well known, thanks to his billionaire father, Jon Sr, co-founder of chemical company Huntsman Corp and a major donor to the University of Utah.

Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and co-founder of private equity firm Bain Capital, has strong ties to Wall Street and a huge head start. Second quarter campaign fundraising figures to be released soon are expected to show he has amassed millions more than any other Republican.

"Most of the people that I have been calling jump on," said Meg Whitman, the former eBay chief and California candidate for governor who is one of Romney's national finance chairs. She cast Huntsman as a career politician and Romney as a businessman. Some donors are holding out for now, she added.

"Some say, listen, you know I want to wait, I want to see what happens, I want to see how the field evolves," she said.

One corporate convert from Romney to Huntsman, Lew Cramer, who is president of the Utah World Trade Center, summed up a general impression of the two men.

"They are both rich, handsome, warm and have good hair," said Cramer, who worked with Huntsman at the Commerce Department. "But what I particularly like about Jon Huntsman is his international experience."

While many big Republican donors are either on the fence or supporting Romney, Huntsman has received some Wall Street backing from John Mack, chairman of Morgan Stanley.

RACE FOR CASH

In the race for cash ahead of the end of the quarter, which ends on Thursday, Romney this week travels to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., while Huntsman will hit New York, Chicago and Michigan, among other venues.

Although President Barack Obama is likely to raise more than any Republican candidate, some experts predict Romney could raise between $20 million to $30 million in the second quarter. He has been fundraising virtually non-stop since his failed bid for the party's 2008 nomination and could be almost impossible to match on the Republican money trail.

Huntsman has not said whether he will release a fund-raising report, since he is not obligated to, after joining the race just last week. A strong performance could show whether jumps to the top tier of candidates.

Huntsman's campaign has not released many figures, but he did raise $1.2 million at a fundraising event on his first day as a candidate at a New York dinner.

"Romney is the front runner given that the only way to superficially critique the race is polling, money and endorsements," said Ed Rogers, a Republican consultant who worked under former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. "Republicans are very hierarchical and we always tend to favor the frontrunner."

Romney has won back some big name backers from his 2008 run for the nomination, including Whitman.

Joel Peterson, a Utah-based venture capitalist and chairman of JetBlue Airways, said "100 percent" of those he approached from the last election cycle are staying with Romney.

"As someone who knows both, I'm backing Mitt," he said. "He knows how to give businesses confidence, stability, a regulatory environment that's predictable."

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Peter Henderson; Editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia Osterman)

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