Huntsman keeps his options open

Carol E. Lee

President Barack Obama essentially sidelined a potential 2012 challenger last year when he dispatched Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to Beijing.

But Obama also might have unwittingly done his ambassador to China a favor — giving Huntsman a place to wait out the GOP soul-searching that has upended once-promising careers of moderates like him.

Huntsman still has his eyes on the political landscape back home and isn’t shy about his possible interest in running for office. “That’s an option we will always hold open,” he said in a telephone interview from Beijing, where he said he expects the coming months to be a critical part of his time in China.

Huntsman, 50, is charged with seeing through aspects of Obama’s foreign policy that will have significant political consequences and are being closely watched at home. Most pressing is Iran, where he believes China will agree to tougher sanctions. But in his eight months on the job, Huntsman also has become a goodwill ambassador of sorts, frequenting parts of China that are well out of most American officials’ comfort zone and winning over locals with his fluent Mandarin Chinese, young family and folksy charm.

When the conversation turns to Republican politics in the U.S., Huntsman chooses his words carefully – but he suggests that the party’s ideological bloodletting will be long settled by the time he returns, and in plenty of time before the 2016 presidential campaign.

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