President Barack Obama plans to name Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a rapidly rising star in the Republican Party, as ambassador to China, a senior administration official said.
The move is freighted with political intrigue. Huntsman, who speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, quickly emerged after November as one of the leading moderate GOP voices.
Huntsman is often mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012, although some of his advisers think the party primary voters will be more prepared to accept his moderate views on the environment and gay rights in 2016.
Huntsman, who met with Obama’s transition team to discuss energy policy, was in Washington on Friday night, ahead of a planned Saturday announcement by the White House, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Several Utah news organizations said the governor will resign and accept the appointment.
Huntsman, 49, served a Mormon mission in Taiwan. The governor and his wife, Mary Kaye, adopted a daughter, Gracie Mei, from China in 1999. In 2006, he led a trade mission to China "because of their prominence on the world stage and the way in which they are growing so rapidly," he told the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City.
During last year's Republican primaries, he endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), while his father — businessman Jon M. Huntsman Sr. — endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. It was a politically shrewd move by the son, because the family was covered regardless of which candidate went on to be the nominee. And Huntsman advisers calculated that Romney would be unlikely to install a fellow Mormon in his Cabinet.
The move has political ripple effects for both parties, giving Democrats one less potential challenger to worry about, and elevating the prospects for Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R).
Ambassador to China is a more substantive job than many postings because of the national-security issues. George H.W. Bush, the future president, held the job from 1974 to 1975.
The Salt Lake Tribune