SALT LAKE CITY — Is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman hinting at a possible run for president in 2012? An interview the ambassador to China gave to Newsweek magazine appears to be fueling more speculation.
The run for 2012 will begin in earnest this year and a crowded field, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is expected to run.
The Newsweek interview indicates it is possible that Huntsman will join the race. Since being named by President Barack Obama as U.S. ambassador to China, Huntsman has been tight-lipped about his political future.
Asked by Newsweek about it, he said, "You know, I'm really focused on what we're doing in our current position. ... But we won't do this forever, and I think we may have one final run left in our bones."
Asked if he'd rule out a run in 2012 against his current boss, he declined to comment.
"I think that he's putting his name out for consideration for 2012," said University of Utah professor of political science Tim Chambless.
Political observers say Huntsman could be hinting at 2012, but given all of the long-term campaign organizing, travel and fundraising, he may really be looking ahead.
"Successful politics involves successful timing, and I would suggest that Jon Huntsman is thinking more in terms of 2016 than 2012," Chambless said.
A new political action committee has been established by powerful supporters who want him in the race.
His former spokesperson, who is helping run the PAC, said, "It's just a PAC for people who are like-minded. It's not associated specifically with him."
A Huntsman run would set up an interesting showdown with another man with strong Utah ties — Romney, a likely 2012 candidate.
How would Huntsman, considered a social moderate, fare in a party leaning right?
"I think all the old rules have been rewritten. This political climate that we're in is like nothing we've ever seen before," said Salt Lake County Republican Chairman Thomas Wright. "We've seen some really wild things in the political world and I just wouldn't rule him out and wouldn't rule anybody else out."
He continued, "Mitt Romney is also 63. Jon Huntsman is 50. Jon Huntsman has another decade, decade and a half where he would still be a viable candidate."
An attempt to contact Huntsman through the U.S. embassy in Beijing was unsuccessful. This year will be a key year for any potential candidate, because the presidential primaries will be well under way in just a year.