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Political action committee launches presidential 'campaign in waiting' for Republican Jon Huntsman

Horizon PAC launches a website with the notion 'Maybe Someday' that it describes as a 'campaign in waiting' for Jon Huntsman, who recently announced plans to resign as the U.S. ambassador to China.

February 22, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Can you launch a campaign without a candidate?

A political action committee is stepping up efforts to lay the groundwork for a White House run by Jon Huntsman, a Republican who recently announced plans to resign as the U.S. ambassador to China.

Horizon PAC launched a website Tuesday with a whimsical flair, featuring a prominent red H and the notion "Maybe Someday."

"Maybe someday we'll find a new generation of conservative leaders. Well-grounded leaders of vision. Who will bring back America. Maybe someday," the page states.

A spokesman for the committee said the message is meant to reflect the group's "support for a new generation of conservative candidates that care more about working to achieve long-lasting solutions than politics as usual in Washington."

Huntsman's name is never mentioned on the site, and the committee stresses that it "does not have an official connection" to the former Utah governor and that "he is not formally or informally involved." They do, however, describe it as a "campaign in waiting."

The carefully crafted disclaimer reflects the issues related to Huntsman's current status as an officer in the Obama government. As an ambassador he is precluded from performing any political activities, and the White House issued a mild rebuke last month as his letter of resignation was received.

"The American people expect that somebody that holds the post of ambassador from the United States to China will dedicate their full energy and time to that position. We believe that Ambassador Huntsman believes that as well," then-press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Publicly, Huntsman has sidestepped questions about his future. At the White House state dinner honoring China in January, he told reporters he was "loyal to our president and our country." But in an earlier interview he indicated his political career was only temporarily delayed by his current appointment.

In the meantime, his "committee in waiting" is staffing up. It announced Tuesday that Al Shofe will serve as a congressional liaison, and Craig Engle will serve as legal counsel. A statement noted that Engle "has extensive experience representing presidential and political committees."

Huntsman was ambassador to Singapore in the administration of President George H. W. Bush before working in the private sector in his family-owned business. He was elected Utah's governor in 2004, and secured a second term with more than 75% of the vote in 2008. That year he also served as a national co-chairman for John McCain's presidential campaign.

The fact that Huntsman accepted the ambassadorial appointment from Obama in 2009 surprised many who thought he harbored presidential aspirations of his own, and that joining the Democratic administration ruled out such an effort for the near future.

Obama himself has joked about Huntsman's predicament.

"I couldn't be happier with the ambassador's service, and I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future," Obama said last month, before adding: "I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary."

michael.memoli@latimes.com

twitter.com/mikememoli

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