Mark Halperin’s answers in this week of TIME.
Can Jon Huntsman go from being Obama’s man in Beijing to beating him in 2012?
To catch up the uninitiated: on Jan. 31, Huntsman, a former Utah governor and the current U.S. ambassador to China, announced plans to leave his position in April. Then his kitchen cabinet of advisers spread the word that Huntsman was considering a run for the 2012 GOP nomination. Asked about this, President Obama joked, “I’m sure that [his] having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.”
Who is Jon Huntsman?
Only 50, he worked for the last three GOP Presidents and served as Utah’s governor for five years. He’s rich — his billionaire father’s chemical firm invented the McDonald’s clamshell container — so he’ll have plenty of money for a bid. Before accepting Obama’s China offer, Huntsman visited the key GOP primary battleground of South Carolina and convened a group of top party activists. Obama strategist David Plouffe said then that the prospect of a Huntsman candidacy made him “a wee bit queasy … I think he’s really out there speaking a lot of truth about the direction of the party.”
Could Huntsman morph from unfamiliar upstart to GOP hero in time to get the nomination? Some claim Huntsman’s service in the Obama Administration and his centrist positions on the environment and gay rights will be the kiss of death among conservatives if he runs. But his bold outlook and ability to critique the President’s foreign policy from the inside may give him a leg up. “We’re the bright new shiny object now, and he has to fill that out,” says one of Huntsman’s strategists. “But I think my guy will.”