Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman announced Thursday that he would seek the GOP nomination for governor of Utah, an office he held from 2005 until 2009. Huntsman is running to succeed retiring GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor after Huntsman left office a decade ago.
Several other candidates are already running in the June primary including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who has Herbert’s support; businessman Jeff Burningham; and Salt Lake County Council chair Aimee Winder Newton. Whoever takes the Republican nomination should have no trouble winning the general election in this very red state.
Huntsman, who hails from a prominent Utah family, was elected governor in 2004 and won a second term four years later with 78% of the vote. Politicos quickly began speculating that he could challenge President Barack Obama for re-election, so it was a big surprise when Obama chose him to become ambassador to China in 2009. The move to Beijing hardly ended Huntsman’s White House ambitions, though, and he ended up resigning in 2011 and entering the GOP presidential primary.
Huntsman pitched himself to Republican voters who were exhausted with their party's shift to the right. Among other things, he declared, "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." That proved to be a very smart way to get media attention but a very bad way to get actual votes, and his campaign quickly ended with a distant third-place showing in New Hampshire. The winner of that contest, as well as the GOP nod, was Mitt Romney, who has had a bad relationship with Huntsman for years and is now Utah’s junior senator.
Four years later, Huntsman endorsed Donald Trump just before he secured the GOP nod himself. After Trump won, he picked Huntsman for another ambassadorship, this time to Russia. However, reports began to circulate earlier this year that Huntsman was eyeing a comeback for his old job back home in Utah. (As The New York Times' Alex Burns put it in June, "Plotting a political campaign while serving in a sensitive diplomatic role is very on-brand.") Huntsman announced in August that he would resign, and he began publicly talking about another run for governor soon after his departure took effect last month.
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