Huntsman: No family feud with Romney

Politics • Former Utah governor calls potential political rival a "great man."
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Washington • Rumblings of a long-standing feud between Jon Huntsman Jr. and Mitt Romney are overblown and untrue, Huntsman said Thursday as Romney made his White House intentions official.

In fact, in a Tribune interview, Huntsman called Romney a "great man" who is "terrifically talented."

Huntsman may launch a presidential bid of his own, a move that would pit him against Romney in the contest for the Republican nomination — a competitive scenario not unfamiliar to the two. Some dozen years ago, Huntsman and Romney were in the running to rescue Salt Lake City's scandal-tarnished Olympic Games.

Romney got the job and Huntsman didn't, leading to speculation of lingering bad blood between the two families.

But in an interview Thursday with The Salt Lake Tribune, Huntsman said his family connection to the Romneys dates back a hundred years — the two also share a common ancestor — and there's nothing but mutual respect between the clans.

"I laugh every time I read that. That's totally overblown," Huntsman said. "I understand the media likes to squeeze a drama out of every relationship, every factor of politics. But that is absolute hyperbole of the highest order."

Huntsman said of Romney: "He has a noteworthy track record."

The idea of a family quarrel between the Huntsmans and Romneys dates to 1999, when a bribery scandal tripped up planning for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The organizing committee needed a new leader, and Jon Huntsman Jr. was recruited as a potential candidate.

The committee, meanwhile, had already picked Romney, leaving Huntsman out in the cold.

His father, industrialist/philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., initially refused to donate money to the Olympics and criticized the Utah effort, but later came to be a booster.

Huntsman Sr. said there may have been a short time when feelings were hurt but it blew over.

"It wasn't something that the family thought much about or something we focused on," Huntsman Sr. recently told The Tribune. "It was a kind of two-day event, and I think the family just felt they should have been better organized."

Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor, also split from his father in the 2008 race when the elder Huntsman gave his support to Romney while Huntsman Jr. backed Sen. John McCain, the eventual GOP nominee.