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Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman isn't saying no to a 2016 presidential bid "You don't ever rule anything out in politics," he says but he is planning to use a bipartisan group to coax the eventual White House contenders into tackling America's biggest problems.
Huntsman said Wednesday that he isn't raising money, hiring staff or really considering a second run at the Oval Office, but he is hoping that the group No Labels, of which he's a national co-chairman, will have a big impact on the presidential race. He's better off on the sidelines, he says, than in the scrum.
"The impact can be had at the margins in formulating a national strategic agenda," Huntsman told The Salt Lake Tribune. "When you're a candidate and you're in the arena, you're pummeled to the point where your voice sometimes can't be heard."
Huntsman, who dropped out of the 2012 presidential race after a third-place showing in New Hampshire, joined members of Congress, state lawmakers and local officials from across the country on Wednesday at the inaugural No Labels National Ideas Summit. Republicans and Democrats shuttled between sessions on immigration, tax reform and energy at the all-day conference.
Among the attendees: Folks from Iowa and New Hampshire, the first states in the presidential-primary contests. That's on purpose. No Labels is planning to roll out a plate of ideas late next year as the presidential race ramps up in hopes of setting the agenda.
"All these candidates running in 2016, they're all going to want to talk about how they're uniters and how they want to be problem solvers but they never tell you how they're going to get it done," Huntsman said. "So what we're developing is the how."
Not the who?
BuzzFeed reported Tuesday that Huntsman has been speaking to supporters about a possible third-party bid for the White House, a move the one-time Republican candidate considered a few times during and after his ill-fated bid. He said Wednesday he's staying a Republican, and while the future isn't set, his goal now is to push the No Labels agenda and work on bringing the GOP back to its roots.
I "plan to reform the Republican Party to the extent possible and to re-infuse it with some of the ideals of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and General [Dwight] Eisenhower," Huntsman said. "We have chapters in our 100-plus-year history of changing the world under Republican leadership, and there's nothing that says it can't be done again."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., co-chairman of No Labels with Huntsman, said he didn't know if the group is a potential launching pad for the former Utah governor, but that's "not the intent." He said the bipartisan movement is aimed at getting both sides of the political aisle to talk to each other and find common ground.
"Our intent really is basically, if someone comes and says, 'I want you to vote for me, I'm running for senator, I want your vote,'" Manchin said, "the first thing you should ask is 'why do you want the job?' If they can't come back and tell you why they want the job and what they intend to do, you better look for another candidate."
Two other Utahns joined the No Labels summit in Washington: Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat, and state Sen. Curt Bramble, a Republican. It was the first time either had attended a No Labels event, and they said they were excited to see an effort that blows past the partisan gridlock.
"We have problems as a country call them American problems and we need American solutions," Bramble said. "And the notion of finding a principled compromise to move forward, that's the basis of our nation. And we need to figure out how to re-engage on that notion."
McAdams said he was stoked about the idea of using the No Labels movement to engage with the presidential candidates, and use the sway of so many elected officials to change the conversation.
"I think it'll have some notoriety," McAdams said. "The American people are hungry for problem solvers, not politicians."