Jon Huntsman to launch his 2020 run for Utah governor

(Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP Photo) In this Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 file photo, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. attends an opening ceremony of the stone of the memorial to members of the resistance at Nazis concentration camps during WWII, at the Jewish Museum and Center for Tolerance in Moscow, Russia. The U.S. and British embassies in Moscow said Wednesday July 17, 2019, that Russia has refused visas to teachers at a school that educates diplomats' children.

Former two-term Gov. Jon Huntsman will try for a third.

Huntsman, 59, is expected to make the announcement Thursday and answer media questions after an appearance at the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service at Southern Utah University in Cedar City.

Rumors have been circulating for months that the former governor was considering another campaign to become the state’s top executive — and for many, his decision to relinquish his ambassadorship in Russia to move back to Utah last month served as confirmation of his political intentions.

Huntsman has been making the rounds in Utah’s political circles since he returned to the state in October and has said in other media interviews that he intended to make his intentions known this week.

He is expected to announce his run for governor Thursday morning, according to a source close to the former governor. And then Huntsman will appear at Southern Utah University where he’ll speak about “Utah and the World” before he addresses reporters.

Early surveys have suggested the gubernatorial contest could be a showdown between Huntsman and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, both of whom are polling well ahead of other potential rivals. A recent poll by the Salt Lake Chamber showed that Huntsman bested Cox when all voters were surveyed, while the lieutenant governor had the lead among Republicans.

Huntsman’s opponents in the Republican primary have already taken shots at him for exiting his gubernatorial post midterm in 2009 to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama. Cox has pointed out that at the time, Utah was in the throes of the recession.

Huntsman has said in past interviews that when a president calls, he’ll serve, as he did when President Donald Trump tapped him to be the ambassador to Russia.

Huntsman was Utah’s governor from 2005 to 2009. He’s served as a U.S. ambassador under three presidential administrations — working in Singapore for former President George H.W. Bush, China for Obama and Russia for Trump.

In addition to Cox, declared 2020 gubernatorial candidates include Provo businessman Jeff Burningham and Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton. Other Utahns preparing for, or considering, a gubernatorial run include former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright.

Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, a brother of Ambassador Jon Huntsman, is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.