US Ambassador Jon Huntsman leaves China

Updated: 2011-04-30 17:48
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WASHINGTON - US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is returning to the United States this weekend amid speculation that he could be mounting a Republican campaign for the White House.

US Ambassador Jon Huntsman leaves China
US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman in this file photo. [Photo/Agencies] 

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Huntsman, a former Utah governor who joined US president Barack Obama's administration in 2009, officially completes his work as the nation's top diplomat in China this week. He is expected to attend the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner on Saturday, a high-profile event that features Obama along with Hollywood and political figures.

Huntsman will be meeting with advisers on Monday to discuss his future, according to a person familiar with his schedule. The person was not authorized to speak publicly about Huntsman's presidential plans.

This year has been highly unusual in that candidates from the opposition Republican Party have been very late in announcing their intentions to make a run against Obama. This allows them to to avoid extensive fundraiing and spending in the early months and save that effort for later in the campaign.

The former governor stoked speculation about his future when he told Newsweek late last year, "We may have one final run left in our bones." In January, Huntsman announced he would step down this spring as ambassador to China in the Democratic administration.

Huntsman enjoyed high approval ratings in solidly conservative Utah. He opposes abortion and supports gun rights, but his Mormon faith and support of civil unions for gay couples could raise questions among evangelical voters and conservatives. Republicans backing Huntsman say he could attract independents who will be key to a general election campaign against Obama.

Huntsman has won praise from the Obama administration despite speculation he could be seeking to challenge the president. Obama joked that Huntsman's work for the administration would be a "great asset in any Republican primary."