Is it game over if Jon Huntsman runs for governor?

Jon Huntsman 04I have no idea if former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., is really interested in running for governor again in 2020. I would be quite surprised if he is serious.

One would think that having served as Utah governor for a full term and part of another, and having seen the bright lights of Beijing and Moscow — the most prestigious and important ambassadorships in the world — and after having run for the biggest job of all – the U.S. presidency – it would be a little weird for Huntsman to return to little old Utah and run for governor.  Been there, done that.


Still, someone is clearly sending up trial balloons on Huntsman’s behalf, and his people are certainly not rushing to tamp down the speculation.

If he is serious and actually runs then, on paper at least, it should be game over. He should easily cruise to victory, not needing to break a sweat.

There are some very fine prospects considering running who would be good governors. But none has the star power, the connections and relationships, the visibility and name ID — and the money — that Huntsman has. He should, on paper at least (again), be able to simply overwhelm all the other candidates.

It would be quite disappointing for a lot of younger prospects who have been waiting in the wings saying, “When’s it going to be my turn?” First, former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, with all his prestige and celebrity, swoops in and claims a U.S. Senate seat. Then Huntsman returns from high-flying international politics and takes the governorship. What’s next? Mike Leavitt taking down Mike Lee?

A Huntsman candidacy would put current Gov. Gary Herbert in a tricky spot. Huntsman gave Herbert his chance at big-time politics by choosing him as lieutenant governor and then leaving the governorship in Herbert’s hands when he left for China.

But Herbert certainly also feels some loyalty to his own lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox, who has all but announced that he’s running for governor. Who would Herbert support?

If Huntsman gets in, the real race for some of the current gubernatorial hopefuls might be for lieutenant governor. After all, it’s proven to be a pretty good stepping stone. I doubt if it would make sense for Jason Chaffetz or Rob Bishop, but it would make sense for Greg Hughes, Spencer Cox, Thomas Wright, Greg Miller, or Aimee Winder Newton.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if Huntsman invited someone like Natalie Gochnour or Theresa Foxley to join him as LG. 

If Huntsman jumped in, there would still be room for a Thomas Wright or one or two of the other prospects to stay in the race. If a first-time candidate runs well, demonstrates competence and vision, and doesn’t burn bridges, losing to Huntsman wouldn’t hurt future prospects. In fact, it might help. It’s a great opportunity to introduce oneself to voters and gain some valuable visibility. It might also be a good way to become lieutenant governor.

Huntsman would make a very interesting second-time-around governor. He has the national and international prestige to boost Utah in many ways. I’d love to see a high-profile Utah governor make a strong national case that the federal government is so broken and dysfunctional that it’s not salvageable in its present form, and the only hope for the nation is to devolve power and money to the states, which can still solve problems and operate effectively.

Save the country from the state level. Not a bad crusade for someone who really wants to make a difference.