China Power

Huntsman for President?

US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is leaving his post in April. Is he planning a run for the presidency?

The campaign for the Republican nomination to face off against Barack Obama in 2012 has gotten off to a sluggish start this year. Yes, the election isn’t until November next year, but as Roll Call reports, Republican activists in the early primary state of New Hampshire have complained this campaign cycle is off to its ‘slowest start in decades.’

But while potential candidates Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin may well be mulling when and whether to give up their undoubtedly lucrative FOX News deals to make a run, US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman looks like he’s already considering taking a shot.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Huntsman had delivered his letter of resignation to Obama, with a view to standing down on April 30. The decision is believed by many to presage a bid for the presidency, but has still taken those who had expected him to wait until 2016 by surprise.

It won’t be easy—Obama has the advantage of incumbency, while Huntsman, seen as a moderate, will be faced with the prospect of trying to find his voice in a field expected to be crowded with some stridently conservative ones. In addition, attacking Obama comes with the complication that he has since his appointment been the low-key representative of the Obama administration’s policies in a key country, something critics will no doubt point to gleefully. His possible candidacy also raises the prospect of China having a higher profile in the election, and any opponents can be expected to lay the China criticism on extremely thick in an effort to tar Huntsman by association.

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Obama, no doubt wise to Huntsman’s impending departure, for his part noted mischievously at the joint press conference held during Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington last month: ‘I couldn't be happier with the ambassador's service, and I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavours he chooses in the future…And I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.’