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Jon Huntsman leaving administration soon

Now that the 2010 midterm elections are over, tongues have already started wagging over who the potential Republican presidential candidates may be in 2012.

Huntsman began laying his plans in private many months ago, spreading the word that he hoped to leave China and using multiple opportunities to forge connections with national political reporters.

Huntsman advisers said Monday that the former governor has been focused on his ambassadorial duties and has been detached from efforts by his supporters, which include forming a political action committee, HorizonPAC, that could be used to kick-start a campaign.

As far back as November 2009, when the White House press corps accompanied Obama on a trip to Beijing and Shanghai, Huntsman made himself unusually available for comment - so much so that he caught the attention of administration officials more accustomed to keeping reporters at bay and who prefer to control their media strategy.

When rumors first surfaced that Huntsman had purchased a home in the Kalorama neighborhood and was contemplating a presidential bid late last year, senior White House officials scoffed at the notion - and said they had not been given any inkling of the move by Huntsman himself. It wasn't until around the holidays that people inside the White House began to realize that he was seriously considering a run. A short time later, Huntsman finally "told several people in the White House that he would be coming back [to the U.S.] in the early part of this year," a senior administration official said.

He will be a difficult figure to replace. Fluent in Mandarin, with significant stature in the region, he has played an important role in U.S.-China policy as Obama has sought to make the United States more competitive and to build a business alliance with Beijing.

White House officials clearly have chosen to make sure conservative voters see Huntsman as someone who chose to work for the Democratic president.

"I couldn't be happier with the ambassador's service, and I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future," Obama said when asked about Huntsman's possible presidential bid during a joint press conference with Hu last month. "And I'm sure that him having worked so well for me will be a great asset in any Republican primary."

Then over the weekend, William M. Daley, Obama's new chief of staff, poked fun at Huntsman during an off-the-record banquet.

"It's also good to see Jon Huntsman, our ambassador to China," Daley told the crowd, according to Politico. "Or as we call him around the White House: the Manchurian candidate. I want Jon to know that the president has no hard feelings. In fact, he just did an interview with the Tea Party Express saying how integral he has been to the success of the Obama administration."

wallstenp@washpost.comkornbluta@washpost.com


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