Huntsman announces GOP bid for old job as Utah governor

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Jon Huntsman Jr. talk with employees and clients at KKOS Lawyers and K&E CPAs in their offices in Cedar City, Utah, shortly after announcing that he is running for a third term as Utah's governor Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (Steve Griffin/The Deseret News via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. went back on the Utah campaign trail Thursday as he launched a bid to reclaim the governor’s title more than a decade after he left office.

The Republican’s name recognition makes him a top contender. During an appearance in southern Utah, Huntsman responded to speculation about his unusual political pivot by saying he would serve out a full term rather than leave if offered another national job.

“A lot of people are asking why we would want to do this again,” he said in a statement, referring to him and his wife, Mary Kaye Huntsman. “While we’ve served in this post before, we can’t think of anything else we’d rather do.”

Huntsman, a charismatic, popular moderate conservative who oversaw a period of economic growth and tax reform, had recently been elected for a second term when he stepped down in 2009 to serve as U.S. ambassador to China in the Obama administration.

He mounted a short-lived run for president during the 2012 cycle and went abroad again as ambassador to Russia under President Donald Trump, an assignment that was particularly challenging as the U.S. investigated Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.

After two years, Huntsman left Russia amid heavy speculation about a potential gubernatorial run. He’s entering a crowded field of candidates but has name recognition from his time in the governor’s mansion and as the son of late billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr., a well-known philanthropist with another son who purchased the Salt Lake Tribune.

Among Huntsman’s competitors are Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican who has been willing to criticize Trump at times and has the support of Gov. Gary Herbert.

Huntsman, who endorsed the president in 2016, touted his international experience in his campaign announcement, saying it would give him the vision to help Utah compete on the world stage.