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Posted at 6:08 PM ET, 01/31/2011

Jon Huntsman to resign from Obama administration

By Anne E. Kornblut and Rachel Weiner

U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R) has sent a resignation letter to President Barack Obama in possible preparation for a presidential bid against his boss. He will step down from his post in April.

Huntsman submitted his resignation late Monday, a senior administration official said. His resignation will take effect on April 30, giving the administration barely three months to name -- and get confirmed - an ambassador to one of the most critical postings in the world.

Administration officials expressed chagrin at Huntman's change of heart, but said they were doubtful he could make a successful run at the presidency. They chalked much of his aspirations up to the wishful thinking of adviser John Weaver, and dismissed the idea that there is suddenly a market for centrists such as Huntsman after the tea party sweep of 2010.

"It's hard to imagine a massive moderate reaction that will give birth to Huntsman," one senior administration official said Monday.

Huntsman began laying his plans in private many months ago, spreading the word that he hoped to leave China and using multiple opportunities to forge connections with national political reporters.

As far back as November of 2009, when the White House press corps accompanied Obama on a trip to Beijing and Shanghai, Huntsman made himself unusually available for comment - so much so that he raised eyebrows among White House and State Department officials more accustomed to keeping reporters at bay.

When rumors first surfaced that Huntsman was buying a house in the DC area and contemplating a presidential bid late last year, senior White House officials said they had not been given any inkling of the move by Huntsman himself.

But, allies of Huntsman have been steadily building a campaign operation that includes Weaver as well as longtime media guru Fred Davis as well as several operatives in early states like New Hampshire and South Carolina.

He will be a difficult figure to replace. Fluent in Mandarin, with significant stature in the region, he has played an important role in US China policy as Obama has sought to make the United States more competitive and to build a business alliance with Beijing.

By Anne E. Kornblut and Rachel Weiner  | January 31, 2011; 6:08 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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