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Ex-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman hints at GOP presidential bid

A Newsweek article says the former governor and current ambassador to China has met with Republican political advisors, but he declines to confirm his candidacy.

January 02, 2011|By Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times
  • Jon Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah and current ambassador to China, may be weighing a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
Jon Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah and current ambassador to… (Douglas C. Pizac, Associated…)

Former Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., the Obama administration's ambassador to China, hinted in an interview with Newsweek that he is considering running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

Sources close to Huntsman said he met with political advisors last month on a home visit to discuss the possibility of leaving the administration to join the crowded GOP 2012 field, the magazine said.

When asked directly whether he planned to mount a challenge, Huntsman declined to comment, the magazine said in an article posted on its website Saturday.

If Huntsman runs, he could face such familiar names as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has kept people guessing about her intentions. Polls suggest those three are leading the Republican presidential pack.

Huntsman, 50, is a moderate, pro-business Republican who has been considered a rising star in his party. When Obama appointed him ambassador to China in 2009, a gesture that underscored the president's oft-stated commitment to bipartisanship, some speculated that the president was removing a potential political rival.

In an interview last month on "Charlie Rose," Huntsman said it was his sense of duty that led him to accept Obama's offer, which came six months after he was reelected governor in a landslide.

"I accepted because the president asked," Huntsman said. "I am a traditionalist in that sense.... If you can make a unique contribution in that particular job, hardship though it might be, you stand up and serve."

Huntsman, who has lived in Asia four times, speaks Mandarin fluently. "You cannot understand the complexity and color and richness of the Chinese culture unless you are able to speak the language," he told Rose.

Huntsman is the son of Jon Huntsman Sr., a Utah businessman and philanthropist who helped create the plastic egg carton and invented the clamshell container for the McDonald's Big Mac. Huntsman Jr. worked for his father before becoming a diplomat. He was an assistant in the Reagan White House and served as ambassador to Singapore under the first President Bush. In the second Bush administration, he was a deputy trade representative.

Like Romney, Huntsman is Mormon. He once worked as a missionary in Taiwan. In the last presidential cycle, Huntsman surprised many Utahans when he signed on to John McCain's campaign as a national co-chairman in 2006; his father was a major supporter of Romney.

Huntsman, the eldest of nine, is married and has seven children, two of whom were adopted — one from India and one from China. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, he dropped out of high school in the late 1970s to play in a rock band. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor's degree in political science.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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