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Obama brushes off idea that his ambassador to China could run against him in 2012

Obama says he's pleased with the service of Jon Huntsman, a Republican former Utah governor of Utah, and jokes that anyone working for a Democrat would have a hard time in the GOP primaries.

January 20, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — President Obama downplayed speculation that his ambassador to China could challenge him for reelection, joking Wednesday that service in his administration is an unlikely launching pad for a Republican hopeful.

The question about Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor Obama named as his envoy to Beijing, was posed at the start of a joint press availability with China's president at the White House.

"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, before adding: "I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary."

Obama praised Huntsman, a fluent Mandarin speaker, for the "skill, dedication and talent" he has brought to his job.

"The fact that he comes from a different party I think is a strength, not a weakness, because it indicates the degree to which both he and I believe that partisanship ends at the water's edge and that we work together to advocate on behalf of our country," Obama said.

The fact that Huntsman accepted the appointment from Obama in 2009 surprised many who thought he was presidential timber, and who felt that joining the Democratic administration ruled out a national campaign of his own for the foreseeable future.

It was therefore just as curious when Huntsman would not rule out challenging Obama during a recent interview with Newsweek.

"We won't do this forever, and I think we may have one final run left in our bones," he told the magazine when asked if he still harbored presidential ambitions.

Asked specifically if that run could be in 2012, Huntsman declined to comment.

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.

"I never expected … to be called into action by the person who beat us," he said as he accepted Obama's appointment in May 2009. "But I grew up understanding that the most basic responsibility one has is service to country. When the president of the United States asks you to step up and serve in a capacity like this, that, to me, is the end of the conversation."

mmemoli@tribune.com

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