Introducing Jon Huntsman, the 'Cool' GOP Candidate

Former China Ambassador finds a way to distinguish himself from Romney

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"My initial passion in life was to be a rock and roll musician," 2012 potential GOP candidate Jon Huntsman told the University of South Carolina graduating class Saturday, in his first address upon returning to the U.S. from China, Politico reports. He went on to say that he dropped out of high school a few months before graduation to play with a band called Wizard.

My hair was Rod Stewart shaggy...I wouldn't wear anything but super skinny jeans... We crawled in the ugliest green Econoline van you could ever imagine, with fold-up chairs in the back.

Huntsman, who was twice elected governor of Utah before being appointed to the China post by President Obama in early 2009, is the latest to seriously consider a 2012 run. He resigned his position as ambassador late last month and has spent the last week putting together staff and a fundraising apparatus should he decide to launch a bid. His two-day visit to South Carolina was "unmistakably designed to plant the seeds for a presidential campaign," according to CNN.

While he remained cagey about the specifics of running for office, he did tell reporters that "things are moving pretty quickly." He also met with Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who will be a key endorser in South Carolina's early primary, and with other local Republican leaders. GOP contender Tim Pawlenty told reporters yesterday that he considers Huntsman a friend and would welcome him to the race, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. “He would bring a lot to the debate,” Pawlenty said. “He’s smart, he’s informed, he’s seasoned, he’s got a lot of insight.”

He might bring a lot to the debate, but does he stand a chance? Jon Ellis at Business Insider describes Huntsman's candidacy:

He's relatively young, he's handsome, he's vigorous, he's rich, he's a proven vote-getter, he's much admired, he's Mormon, he's scandal-free, and he's performed ably in both the private sector and the public sector. He is Mitt Romney. He is also Jon Huntsman.

Being the "cool" candidate is certainly one way for Huntsman to distinguish himself from Romney.

Though Huntsman avoided explicit politics in his address to graduates Saturday, he did take on potential criticism he may face for his service to President Obama by calling on the young American graduates to serve their country -- even if that means working for a president from a different political party.

"Serve [America], if asked. I was, by a president of a different political party. But in the end, while we might not all be of one party, we are all part of one nation," he said.

But Huntsman apparently devoted more time to subjects such as his favorite song lyrics from Ben Folds Five and the South Carolina Gamecocks, whose traditional cheer he performed in Mandarin.

"You may have to help me on this," he said to the crowd. "Go, fight, win?" he asked in English.

"Kick ass!" the audience shouted in response.

Photo by Getty Images

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.