MIAMI — Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, struggling with low poll numbers and internal campaign troubles, came to Coconut Grove Wednesday searching for political magic from that coveted name in Florida politics: Jeb Bush.
It was Jeb Bush Jr. — not his father, the former governor — who was throwing his support behind Huntsman. And the son made clear he did not speak for the father.
"I've been trying to pick his brain a little bit," Bush Jr. said. "I'll start lobbying him."
Huntsman touted the backing from Bush Jr. and Ana Navarro, a longtime fundraiser and strategist, as significant as he tries to grow an operation off to a shaky start into a top contender.
Bush Jr., a real estate developer with an extensive network of contacts, will lead the campaign's outreach to young professionals. Navarro, who co-chaired John McCain's Hispanic outreach in 2008, will head Huntsman's effort to attract Hispanics, a crucial demographic to make Florida go red or blue.
President Barack Obama won over young people and Hispanics in 2008, while Huntsman vowed to bring them to his camp.
"We are serious. We are moving forward," said Huntsman, the former governor of Utah. "We are planting seeds in the early primary states."
Navarro said she had vowed to stay out of the primary but was persuaded to become involved because of what she called a leadership vacuum in national politics. Huntsman's limited traction so far, she said, reminded her of McCain's lukewarm support in the beginning of the last presidential campaign — and of the little credibility given early on to Sen. Marco Rubio, whom she and Bush Jr. also supported.
"Jon Huntsman is a man who's not a fake. He's not a flip-flopper. He's not a shape-shifter," said Navarro, who also lauded Huntsman's foreign-policy experience. He served the past two years as U.S. ambassador to China under the Obama administration.
Speaking to reporters, Huntsman played up that his national headquarters is in Orlando.
Facing questions on his organization, Huntsman downplayed any internal tensions following high campaign turnover.
"I've run a state. It was a AAA bond-rated state. We were named the best-managed state in America," he said. "… I've run the second-largest embassy in the world. I've got seven kids in my family. I know something about organizations and organizational behavior. Our campaign is right where it needs to be."