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Huntsman Separates Himself From Obama, GOP Rivals

Huntsman Separates Himself From Obama, GOP Rivals

By Erin McPike - May 31, 2011

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- Why would a man who criticized his own political party and accepted a job in the opposing party's administration have the audacity to think he should be elected president?

To read between the lines of Jon Huntsman's modest words, the answer is this: Staying on the sidelines when you think you're the most well-rounded player on the bench would be a ghastly idea.

In interviews and speaking publicly, the former Utah governor eschews red meat in favor of understated eloquence -- not unlike his would-be rival, Mitch Daniels. Winning a Republican primary from that moderate perch would seem a tall order, but to those who think the one-time ambassador to China is an apologist for his most recent boss, President Obama, Huntsman has a cautionary note.

"We have no pro-growth policies," he replied in a lengthy interview with RealClearPolitics when asked what was wrong with Obama's approach to growing the economy and supporting business.

The line was so blunt it jerked several of those present -- including his wife, Mary Kaye -- into brief and startled laughter. (The interview took place in a campaign van as Huntsman's entourage was making its way through the Granite State last Monday for an event here.)

"When was the last time we had a free-trade agreement?" Huntsman asked.

So far, Huntsman has been careful in describing how he has differed with the president, offering instead a vision in broad brushstrokes about how America's future should look. And while he may never eviscerate Obama verbally the way some of his fellow Republicans do, Huntsman does have something he'd like to clear up.

Asked to elaborate on their working relationship -- and if he liked Obama personally -- he replied, "I think he's a good man, and he's tried his best.

"We don't have a personal relationship," he said, explaining that he has only spoken to Obama several times. In other words, although Obama has joked -- shrewdly -- that he and Huntsman are buddies, the recently returned ambassador clarified: "I was asked to do a sensitive job, but it's not like it was based on a personal relationship." Huntsman and his wife calculated that he had only met with the president in person on three occasions.

As a fluent speaker of Mandarin, Huntsman's appointment to one of the most strategically important U.S. diplomatic posts made sense on its merits. But there was also a political component -- it's the worst-kept secret in Washington that Obama's advisers had hoped to eliminate one of his top potential competitors in 2012. On the other side of the ledger, it rounded out Huntsman's resume by giving him much-needed foreign policy experience.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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