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Obama Picks Huntsman, Republican Governor of Utah, as Ambassador to China

Jon Huntsman, the president's pick as ambassador to China, is "a logical thinker, not an ideological thinker," said an Asia expert. "That's like Obama."
Jon Huntsman, the president's pick as ambassador to China, is "a logical thinker, not an ideological thinker," said an Asia expert. "That's like Obama." (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 17, 2009

President Obama reached across the aisle yesterday to tap a leading Republican governor as his ambassador to China, indicating his continuing desire for bipartisanship in his administration while signaling to Beijing his intent to build "a new understanding" with the United States' largest economic competitor.

In announcing the nomination of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Obama noted that he is choosing an envoy with years of experience in the region and who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

"With Jon Huntsman representing the United States in China, I'm confident that we will launch a new era of partnership between our two nations that will advance our shared dreams of opportunity and security in America, in Asia, and around the world," Obama said in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room.

Flanked by his wife and seven children, Huntsman, 49, accepted Obama's "call to service," admitting that as a national co-chair of Sen. John McCain's Republican presidential campaign last year, he never expected "to be called into action by the person who beat us."

Huntsman has been viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party, thanks to his record of economic recovery and growth in Utah and to his moderate political views. Blocked from running for a third term as governor in 2012, he had already begun making early steps toward a possible presidential bid, one that many political observers thought had the potential to be the strongest Republican challenge to Obama.

Huntsman recently spent a weekend traveling in Michigan -- a critical state in the GOP primary process -- and had enlisted the help of John Weaver, a former McCain aide, who presented Huntsman with a basic blueprint and strategy to secure the nomination.

Several of Obama's top advisers in the White House regarded him as a formidable challenger. David Plouffe, who managed Obama's presidential campaign, told U.S. News & World Report this month that Huntsman was "the one person in that party who might be a potential presidential candidate."

Huntsman was planning to set up a political action committee next month, top political advisers said yesterday, and had begun the process of recruiting operatives and volunteers in early-voting states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina. With yesterday's announcement, all of that political activity ends, along with his prospects for a presidential bid before 2016, his advisers said.

"It's a rare thing in Washington that someone puts their country's interest before their own personal interests," Weaver said in an interview. "Having said that, things usually work out well for the person who does do that. He's a young guy. And he's a very good prescription for what ails our party."

The posting would add significant foreign policy experience to Huntsman's political résumé -- a valuable asset, should he return to thoughts of a presidential campaign in years to come.

The governor also has deep ties to Asia: He lived in Taiwan as a Mormon missionary, mastering Mandarin while there. He and his wife, Mary Kaye, adopted a daughter from China, and he briefly served as U.S. ambassador to Singapore in the early 1990s.

White House aides and people close to the governor said tapping Huntsman for the China post was first proposed to the president by Jeff Bader, the top Asia expert on the National Security Council.


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