Last held public office: U.S. ambassador to China, 2009-present
Jon Huntsman was barely one year into his second term as governor of Utah when President Obama picked him to serve as U.S. ambassador to China. Even then, many thought there were political motivations for sending the rising GOP star halfway around the world. Huntsman worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, in addition to serving as an executive for his family's billion-dollar business, the Huntsman Corp. He would be one of the only presidential candidates with significant experience as an executive, in the private sector and abroad. His experience with China gives him instant leadership credibility as Americans begin to eye the Asian economic powerhouse with concern.
Despite governing one of the most conservative states in the nation, Huntsman's record is that of a moderate technocrat; he won conservative plaudits for slashing taxes, but he backed Obama's stimulus plan, signaled support for gay civil unions, signed on to cap-and-trade emission controls and, of course, worked for a Democratic President, all of which are anathema to most Republicans. And his Mormon faith has the potential to cause problems with social conservatives.
Huntsman's record and two-year stint as an employee of Obama are major hurdles for a Republican presidential candidate. In recent years, Huntsman blasted his own side's "gratuitous partisanship" and complained that the GOP was becoming "a very narrow party of angry people." But gratuitous partisanship is the nature of presidential politics, and it's hard to imagine Huntsman winning his party's nomination without a significant rightward shift.
Representative quote: "The most important thing you will do with your education or that I will do as an elected official is to improve the human condition through better economic opportunity, education, quality of life and security regardless of which side of the Pacific we came from."
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