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Jon Huntsman: Can Obama’s former ambassador win GOP votes? [Video]

As Jon Huntsman launched his campaign for the presidency Tuesday, he gave only brief mention of one of the most curious aspects of his candidacy: service to the president he now hopes to run against in 2012.

Huntsman talks of viewing America from “10,000 miles away,” an allusion to his service as ambassador to China. And he told reporters traveling with him from New Hampshire on Tuesday that his foreign policy experience was something that differentiates him from the rest of the field.

But with his first test among GOP voters who largely detest President Obama, he must walk a fine line in explaining why he answered the Democrat’s call to serve in his administration.

Photos: The 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls

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When Obama announced the selection of Huntsman in May 2009, it was seen as a master stroke – Huntsman was supremely qualified for the post, and the move seemingly sidelined him for the 2012 presidential race.

But Huntsman announced his resignation this year, returning to the U.S. in April. The administration, including Obama himself, joked -- no doubt with some degree of nervousness -- that it couldn’t wait to tell Republicans how closely the two men had worked.

Obama advisor David Axelrod told the New York Times this week that the White House was stunned when Huntsman made moves toward a run, saying he had told them months earlier that speculation of a campaign was “way overblown.’”

Huntsman’s Republican rivals may be more likely to refer to him as “ambassador” than “governor,” though he was elected to two terms in Utah and served longer in Salt Lake City than Beijing.

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Seeking to undermine him, someone registered the domain name JonHuntsman.com, which features a glowing letter Huntsman wrote to Obama just as he was shipping off to China.

“You are a remarkable leader -- and it has been a great honor getting to know you,” Huntsman wrote.

The letter came up in an interview Huntsman did with Sean Hannity of the Fox News Channel (see video below).

“I wrote that after I was appointed. I thought he was a remarkable leader for appointing a Republican to a position as important and sensitive as the U.S. ambassadorship to China,” he said. “During a time of war and economic hardship, I’m the kind of person that’s going to stand up and serve my country. I’m going to take that philosophy to my grave, and I hope my sons do the same thing.”

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Huntsman offers a similar answer in a video posted to his campaign website Tuesday.

Whether that explanation will hold remains to be seen. The White House was mum today, though Obama’s campaign attacked him for his economic plan.

Utah Democrats cast his service in a different light.

“Many Democrats supported his role as ambassador to China, were excited about many of the very moderate and pragmatic positions he took to support the president and support the United States. Now I think they’re disappointed that again, it’s two jobs in a row he just can’t seem to complete,” state Democratic Chairman Wayne Holland said Monday.

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Paul West contributed to this report.


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