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Jon Huntsman Jr. to Seek Republican Presidential Nomination

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Jon Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor who President Barack Obama appointed as his first U.S. ambassador to China, said today that he is planning to formally announce his Republican presidential bid next week.

Huntsman will make the announcement June 21 in New Jersey’s Liberty State Park, where Ronald Reagan gave a Labor Day speech in 1980 with the Statue of Liberty as his background when he was competing for the presidency, said a Huntsman aide who was not authorized to discuss the schedule.

“I intend to announce that I will be a candidate for the presidency a week from today,” Huntsman said at an event on China relations in New York City sponsored by Thomson Reuters that also featured former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Huntsman’s plans were previously reported by the Associated Press.

Huntsman, 51, stepped down as ambassador at the end of April. When he was sent to China in 2009, it was billed as an example of Obama’s commitment to bipartisanship. It was also viewed by some as a way to neutralize a Republican who might be interested in running for president in 2012.

Obama hasn’t hesitated to remind audiences of Huntsman’s link to his administration. He called him “my buddy” during an April 30 speech at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in Washington, an event both men attended. At a Washington dinner in March, Obama said, “As his good friends in China might say, he is truly the yin to my yang. And I’m going to make sure that every primary voter knows it.”

McCain Co-Chairman

In 2008, Huntsman was co-chairman of Republican Senator John McCain’s unsuccessful presidential campaign. He learned to speak Mandarin Chinese during a Mormon mission in Taiwan during his college years and previously was ambassador to Singapore for former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican.

In recent weeks, Huntsman has been traveling to early primary states such as South Carolina and New Hampshire, measuring support for a potential run. He has said he doesn’t plan to compete in Iowa, the state scheduled in February to hold the first nomination balloting, citing his opposition to subsidies for corn-based ethanol as too much of a political hurdle in a state with a large agriculture base.

Huntsman is the eldest of nine children born to billionaire businessman and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., who helped create the plastic egg carton and the clamshell container for the Big Mac sandwich sold by McDonald’s Corp.

Plastics and Chemicals

The family’s global plastics and chemical company, Salt Lake City-based Huntsman Corp., has about 12,000 employees worldwide and had 2010 revenue of $9.25 billion, according to the company’s website.

Huntsman, who was starting his second term as governor when he took the ambassador’s job, has said that he doesn’t intend to use his family’s fortune to finance his campaign.

“Unless you can raise it legitimately, you don’t win,” he told reporters May 6 after meeting with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. “I learned that running for governor.”

On May 3, Huntsman created a federal political action committee, an action that let him start raising money to hire aides and travel the country to explore a potential bid.

Nationally, just 2 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents expressed a preference for him in a Gallup poll released May 26 with a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Civil Unions

After being elected governor in 2004, Huntsman was criticized by some in his own party for supporting civil unions for gay couples and for making Utah part of a regional alliance aimed at developing goals to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

He has a bachelor’s degree in international politics from the University of Pennsylvania and served as a White House staff assistant to Reagan. Huntsman is the father of seven, including an adopted daughter from China and an adopted daughter from India.

His campaign will be based in Orlando, Florida. The state is critical for the Republican primary and general elections, and it will host the 2012 Republican National Convention. Huntsman’s wife, Mary Kaye, grew up in the Orlando area and has family living there.

The field of Republican candidates seeking to challenge Obama is starting to take shape.

Besides Huntsman, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota are seeking the nomination. Herman Cain, the former chief executive officer of Godfather’s Pizza Inc., and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson have formally joined the Republican race.

Other potential candidates include Governor Rick Perry of Texas and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee.

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