A week after leaving his post as U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman appeared Saturday to edge closer to challenging his former boss for the White House, meeting with top Republican Party leaders and telling an audience of graduates that America is "still the envy of the world, we are still as full of potential...
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A week after leaving his post as U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman appeared Saturday to edge closer to challenging his former boss for the White House, meeting with top Republican Party leaders and telling an audience of graduates that America is “still the envy of the world; we are still as full of potential as ever.”
In his 20-minute address, the former governor of Utah touched on human-rights abuses in China and said that revolutions, business and technological innovations are still fueled and inspired by America.
Although Huntsman’s commencement address to the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina was shorn of overt politics, it comes as he has stepped up his campaign efforts in the state.
Since leaving Beijing, Huntsman has been doing everything a man interested in a presidential run would do. On Friday, he met with South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who emerged from their meeting saying that Huntsman is likely to be a serious candidate. He has also formed a political action committee for fundraising efforts and has been consulting with advisers with national campaign experience.
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Next week he will head to New Hampshire, another crucial early primary state.
Huntsman, 51, echoed other Republican party leaders, saying that the GOP field for 2012 is far from set.
“There’s always room for a new voice,” Huntsman said after he met with Haley. “To the extent that people are concerned about where we are, in terms of the economy and our relative position abroad, absolutely, people are looking for a new set of eyeballs.”
Out of the current field, Huntsman has the most international and White House experience, having worked for President Ronald Reagan and both Bush administrations.
Yet Huntsman faces two key challenges in a presidential bid: raising his profile and explaining his ties to President Obama to Republican voters who detest the administration’s policies, foreign and domestic.
The conservative website the Daily Caller revealed last month letters that Huntsman wrote to Obama, calling him a “remarkable leader.”
Top Republicans have openly expressed some dissatisfaction with the field and have said a wild card could energize the race. Huntsman, who dropped out of high school to play in a rock band, could add a measure of cool to a field that has yet to find traction or a solid front-runner.
In his advice to graduates, Huntsman mentioned in passing his ambassador’s job, suggesting what he might say when asked to explain his tenure under a Democratic president.
“As much as you’re able, work to keep America great. Serve her if asked. I was. By a president of a different political party. But in the end, while we might not all be of one party, we are all part of one nation.”