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Can Huntsman's 'secret weapons' help his poll numbers?

By Gabriella Schwarz
updated 12:18 PM EST, Mon November 28, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jon Huntsman's daughter hit Twitter, TV, YouTube to support Dad's campaign
  • Mary Anne, Abby and Liddy Huntsman are known as @Jon2012girls
  • Some tweets are serious, some are patriotic, some are silly
  • Campaign is thrilled to have the daughters, communications director says

Republican presidential candidates take on national defense, the economy, international relations and terrorism issues in the CNN Republican National Security Debate in Washington, moderated by Wolf Blitzer at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, November 22, on CNN, the CNN mobile apps and CNN.com/Live

(CNN) -- As the most recognizable political offspring so far in the 2012 election cycle, the three eldest daughters of GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman are trying to use Twitter, television and YouTube to get votes for their dad.

The self-identified "secret weapon" of the former Utah governor's campaign tweet their campaign observations, appear on national television and recently parodied a controversial Web video form rival candidate Herman Cain.

Most known by their Twitter handle, @Jon2012girls, Mary Anne, 26, Abby, 25, and Liddy, 22, who started tweeting to keep their friends updated on their whereabouts, are now attempting to lift the curtain on their dad's presidential campaign.

"As we got more and more comfortable using it and being honest in what we were saying, I think a lot of people started tuning in and saying, 'You know, this is our only gateway into what's really going on in the campaign,'" Abby said to CBS after an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Some of the tweets have been scrutinized, like one written by Liddy during a recent foreign policy debate. It poked fun at the credentials of the other candidates compared to those of her father, who served as U.S. ambassador to China under President Obama.

"Looks like they don't need adults in the room. Panda Express is enough experience to carry on," the tweet said.

Others are serious, like the recent tweet that paid homage to service members on Veterans Day, and some are just plain fun.

"Is it us? Or did everyone get a bad haircut for this debate?" read a tweet last week.

During an interview with CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" on Wednesday, the conversation ranged from their father's campaign momentum to his attire and haircut.

In a question that stemmed from their hair-related tweets, Morgan asked which of the candidates has the worst haircut.

"We think our dad had the best haircut," Abby said after a pause, refusing to rise to Morgan's bait. "It might have been the humidity in Michigan, but I think everyone must have gone to the same barber before the debate."

They've ventured into slightly chartered territory. Most recently Meghan McCain, daughter of 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain, leveraged a behind-the-scenes blog into an online column, a book deal and a contributor role at MSNBC. The five sons of current and former Republican candidate Mitt Romney traveled via bus during the last election cycle.

Although children of the other candidates have accompanied their parents on the trail, this time around none has done so as consistently or as publicly as the Huntsman daughters.

Republican strategist and CNN contributor Rich Galen said children of presidential candidates are rarely in the limelight and that the spouses usually hold a more important role.

"They tend to generate more problems than they solve, both for the campaign staff because of tinkering and for the campaign itself because they become a separate story," Galen said of candidate's mates.

"Huntsman's daughters are trying to help their dad, but as he is bumping along at between 1 and 3%, no one is paying much attention to Jon or to his daughters," Galen said.

But Huntsman communications director Tim Miller said the campaign is "thrilled" the daughters are "on the trail helping to spread his message."

"They've been a huge asset in reaching out to young voters and showing the governor's personal side in a fun way," Miller said.

And they're not just tweeting their observations to their more than 12,000 followers. Mary Anne told CBS' "Face the Nation" that she is helping the campaign on the finance side while Liddy is helping with outreach to young professionals and college age voters. Abby is "doing a lot of media stuff."

"So you know, we do have a big job aside from Jon2012girls," Mary Anne said.

When asked about the viability of their father's presidential bid, they are quick to offer explanations for his low national and statewide poll numbers, cheerily predicting success.

"He hasn't had a chance to have America see him yet," Mary Anne told Morgan on Wednesday. "He is the only candidate that can give Barack Obama a run for his money, and we hope that America can see that eventually."

Huntsman acknowledges the potential for mishap looms, but he told CNN that his daughters' success represents new campaign realities.

"Here's a reality in my life ... I give a major foreign policy speech on America's role in the world in the 21st century, I get five hits on YouTube. The girls put up this cornball video spoofing another candidate's video, they get half a million views within 24 hours," Huntsman said. "And I say the world isn't fair, but I'm beginning to understand how political communication works these days."

After the Cain campaign released a buzzed-about video showing the pizza executive's mustached chief of staff, Mark Block, taking a long drag on a cigarette, Jon2012girls released a parody spot of their own. Equipped with fake mustaches, the three women blew bubbles instead of smoke. The video has nearly 300,000 hits on YouTube.

Yes, they're infusing humor into the campaign, but Abby also stressed the serious side of their message.

"We're doing this to introduce our dad to America," she told Morgan. "I think the campaign trusts us ... And they know that we're only out there to really get his message out as best as we can."

And are more videos forthcoming?

"I guess you'll just have to wait and see," Liddy said.

"There's always something up our sleeves," Abby said.

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