Who Is Huntsman? Dropout, Ex-Governor, Diplomat

Who Is Huntsman? Dropout, Ex-Governor, Diplomat

By Josh Loftin - June 21, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Jon Huntsman Jr. is a high school dropout, a Harley-riding ex-governor and a diplomat whose last boss was President Barack Obama. Now this Republican wants Obama's job.

The unusual political resume and sometimes centrist views makes Huntsman both a long shot to emerge with the GOP presidential nomination and a candidate to be feared by the Democrat in the White House should he break out of the pack.

At the Tacos Don Rafa food cart in downtown Salt Lake City, though, Huntsman is known simply as a regular, often dressed in a denim jacket.

"His palate can withstand more hot sauce than anyone else I've met," says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Huntsman's first chief of staff. "I think that's why he liked the taco carts, because of their authenticity."

Authenticity also defines Huntsman, friends say, and helps explain his success as a moderate politician in solidly conservative Utah, where he was re-elected with 75 percent of the vote in 2008. Huntsman resigned from the governor's mansion less than a year later when Obama tapped him to serve as his ambassador to China. He gave up the diplomatic post in Beijing after less than two years to make his run for president.

Huntsman's moderate views could work against him in the Republican primaries, where conservative voters dominate. As Utah governor, he supported legislation to deal with climate change and backed civil unions for gay couples, positions that angered the GOP base but had little impact on his overall popularity.

"It makes him an incredibly weak candidate in the GOP field," says Alex Slater, a Democratic consultant. But if Huntsman can win the Republican nomination, Slater says, he would be "the only candidate the White House fears" in a general election.

Huntsman, 51, is certain to face questions for his time working for a Democratic president. That "cardinal sin" of tea party politics may be enough to scare Republican voters back to traditional candidates, says Democratic consultant Mo Elleithee, who worked on Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.

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© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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