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Before China, Huntsman was inching toward '12 run

Published May 18, 2009 6:51 pm

Serious steps » A national PAC was in the works
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Before he answered President Barack Obama's offer to become ambassador to China, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was quietly taking serious steps toward his own bid for the White House.

In recent weeks, riding the crest of a series of party-building appearances in Michigan and an increased national spotlight, Huntsman was taking steps toward forming a national political action committee.

The national PAC would have enabled the governor to begin hiring political consultants, raising money and traveling the country raising his profile and building a network of support for a potential 2012 presidential run.

He had also had been speaking with several top national political consultants -- including John Weaver, the architect of Sen. John McCain's 2000 campaign and an adviser in 2008, described as a long-time friend of the governor's -- and other party officials. The message he was getting was that he should take the plunge, a source told The Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday.

The Washington Examiner on Monday quoted Weaver, saying that Huntsman "had not made a decision to run for president, but he had made a decision to prepare to run."

"We were probably a month away from announcing the formation of a political action committee, so we were pretty far down the road," he said.

Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said 2012 would have been "almost impossible" for Huntsman to win -- going against an incumbent president who Huntsman had supported on the federal stimulus.

The likelihood that Mitt Romney would be in the 2012 field, as well, would also split the Mormon donor and support base, complicating matters. But Jowers, who ran Romeny's Commonwealth PAC, said Huntsman would likely have run, nonetheless.

"Had this not come along, he had to make a run for president to stay relevant," said Jowers. "He was the only moderate voice and there wasn't a clear path of what he would do once he stepped down as governor."

A potential 2012 bid was taken off the table May 5, when Obama asked the governor to take the position in China. Huntsman accepted, and in the coming weeks, should he pass muster during Senate confirmation hearings, will resign as governor and head to Beijing.

But, according to Jowers, that doesn't put a possible presidential run on ice for good. He points to former President George H.W. Bush as a former ambassador to China who went on to become president.

"2016 becomes very interesting," said Jowers. "The ambassador to China, just as it did for H.W. Bush, changes the whole way the country will look at Jon Huntsman. He goes from being a small state governor to being a real global diplomat and the person who was entrusted with arguably our country's most important foreign policy relationship at a very critical time."