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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

GOP hopeful defends tenure in Obama administration

Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, addressed graduates at the University of South Carolina yesterday. Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, addressed graduates at the University of South Carolina yesterday. (Mary Ann Chastain/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / May 8, 2011

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Republican Jon Huntsman, weighing a White House bid, used his first formal event after stepping down as President Obama’s ambassador to China to confront the line on his resume that conservatives were most likely to declare a deal-breaker.

In a high-profile speech at the University of South Carolina in Columbia yesterday, the former Utah governor said patriotism should trump partisanship and defended his two years in Beijing as the Democratic administration’s top diplomat.

“Work to keep America great. Serve her if asked. I was — by a president of a different political party,’’ Huntsman said, directly addressing the job that his rivals and critics hope to make disqualifier among the conservatives who hold great sway in the nominating process.

“But in the end, while we might not all be of one party, we are all part of one nation — a nation that needs your generational gift, energy, and confidence,’’ he told graduates, pitching himself as an above-politics figure and appealing to voters wary of political bickering.

Obama named Huntsman, a Mandarin speaker and former Mormon missionary to Taiwan, his representative in Beijing two years ago.

Huntsman no sooner stepped off the plane from Beijing last week than he was meeting with advisers in Washington, courting donors in New York, and wooing lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He also swiftly set up a federal political committee and hired staff, all clear signs he’s moving rapidly toward a White House run.

And on Friday, he met privately with Governor Nikki Haley, another rising star in the GOP who last year became the first woman and first Indian-American to win the governor’s office in South Carolina.

Huntsman’s advisers say he hasn’t made a decision on whether to join the field for 2012. At age 51, he could afford to wait until 2016 if he perceives Obama as likely to be unbeatable. Still, his schedule reads like one of a full-fledged candidate.

He spent three days here meeting with potential advisers and supporters. He’s slated to deliver a commencement address on May 21 at Southern New Hampshire University — another early nominating state expected to figure prominently in a Huntsman strategy. And he plans to join other GOP hopefuls at the Republican Leadership Conference meeting in New Orleans in June, a regular stop for those looking at White House runs.

Huntsman, who worked in the administrations of President Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, said he and his family are “seriously considering our options.’’

In a field of possible Republican contenders that remains fragmented, Huntsman is struggling like others in his party to build name recognition and enthusiasm. But for what he lacks in celebrity, he brings experience as a former chief executive and diplomat and a Mormon and Wall Street fund-raising base that could help get his name out.

President says economy, jobs remain his top priority
President Obama is reassuring the public that jobs and the economy are his top priority.

At the end of a historic and emotionally charged week that began with his nationally televised announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan during a raid by US special forces, Obama yesterday returned to promoting his energy agenda.

“Although our economy hasn’t been the focus of the news this week, not a day goes by that I’m not focused on your jobs, your hopes, and your dreams,’’ Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

He recorded the address Friday while visiting an Indianapolis transmissions plant that makes systems for hybrid vehicles.

Obama has been traveling around the country to talk up his plan to reduce the national consumption of foreign oil — and the price Americans pay for it — by increasing the production of domestic oil, encouraging a shift to alternative energy sources, and building more fuel-efficient vehicles.