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June 20, 2011

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Joins US Presidential Race

by Jim Malone

In U.S. politics, the Republican presidential field continues to expand in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election.  The latest to join the race is former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who until recently served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China.  

Jon Huntsman is a former governor and diplomat who is little known nationally, but hopes to have an impact on the increasingly crowded Republican presidential field.

Huntsman made his announcement in New Jersey with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop, the same location where Ronald Reagan announced his White House candidacy in 1980.

“We have lost faith in ourselves.  For the first time in history we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got.  This is totally unacceptable and totally un-American,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman is seen as a relative moderate in a Republican field that includes several conservative contenders who are severe critics of President Obama.

Huntsman promised to run a civil campaign based on the issues, not personalities.

“I respect my fellow Republican candidates and I respect the president of the United States.  He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love.  But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is, who will be the better president, not who is the better American,” he said.

Huntsman was twice elected governor of Utah and left early in his second term to become President Obama’s ambassador to China.  During his tenure in Beijing, Huntsman was known as an aggressive advocate for human rights and pushed to expand U.S. economic ties with China.

Huntsman also served as ambassador to Singapore under President George H. W. Bush and learned to speak Mandarin while on a Mormon mission to Taiwan as a young man.

“I have lived overseas four times where the view of America from 10,000 miles away is a picture of liberty, opportunity and justice.  People secure in their rights and in love with their liberty,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman’s relatively moderate positions on some issues such as climate change and civil unions for gay couples could hurt him with conservative voters who play a key role in selecting the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

Analyst Stuart Rothenberg appeared on VOA’s Encounter program.

“He comes from a wealthy, successful business family in Utah, but has a more moderate tinge to his conservatism.  He has supported civil unions, he has talked about carbon tax or cap and trade, and greenhouse gases,” Rothenberg said.

Like Republican frontrunner former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman is a Mormon and his religious background could become an issue, especially with Evangelical Christian activists who are a key voting bloc within the Republican Party.  A new Gallup poll found that one in five Americans would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate.

Huntsman is the latest contender to formally declare for the Republican nomination.  The crowded field already includes Romney, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and Georgia businessman Herman Cain.

In addition, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin have also said they are considering a run for the White House next year.