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Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman says he's being courted to run against Sen. Mike Lee, but he isn't planning a bid to oust the Utah senator in 2016.
"Bottom line, not likely," Huntsman said in a short email to The Salt Lake Tribune. "Maybe next time!!" he added, using two exclamation points.
In a text message to the Deseret News, Huntsman made it clear he has no intention of challenging Lee.
"I don't rule out another run, but not against Mike," the News reported. "We don't always agree who does but he's very capable."
CNN's John King tossed out the rumor of a possible Huntsman vs. Lee race Sunday, generating buzz in political circles about a competitive GOP matchup between the former presidential candidate and the tea-party senator. Lee, who toppled then-Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010, served as Huntsman's general counsel in his first term.
Huntsman didn't elaborate on the possible bid, though he did say he had been approached about running against Lee. King said on CNN's "Inside Politics" show that the "establishment is trying to get some revenge" for Bennett's defeat at Lee's hands and Utah business leaders are pushing to persuade Huntsman to challenge the first-term senator.
Lee's spokesman, Brian Phillips, declined comment on "who may or may not be running" against Lee.
Huntsman, considered a moderate Republican, and Lee, who rode a tea-party wave to the Senate, may not be close friends, but the former governor said in a podcast interview recently that Lee has "every good intention."
"I don't know of too many people in the legislative branch who are as brilliant as Mike Lee, his understanding of the Constitution, his ability to legislate," Huntsman told blogger Matt K. Lewis.
Those comments followed remarks by Huntsman's father, Jon Huntsman Sr., blasting Lee. The senior Huntsman told Politico that he wouldn't even take Lee's calls.
"All I can say is Mike Lee is an embarrassment to the state of Utah," the elder Huntsman said. "He's been a tremendous embarrassment to our family, to our state, to our country to have him as a U.S. senator."
Huntsman has previously said that he's not ruling out another presidential bid, though he said he plans to stay on the sidelines in 2016.
The ex-governor, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama, owns a condo in downtown Salt Lake City but has been spending a good amount of time in Washington, where he owns a multimillion-dollar home in northern Virginia. He is chairman of the Atlantic Council, a think tank for foreign policy that has often been a stopping-off point for top administration officials.
A Huntsman bid for the Senate would be a surprise, says David Magleby, a political science professor at Brigham Young University.
"I had assumed that the governor had made a conscious decision to play on a national stage and not a Utah stage by virtue of how he ran for president and how he conducted his campaign," Magleby said, adding that after eyeing the White House, the Senate is not usually a fallback.
"Once you get the presidential bug," Magleby added, "you have the presidential bug and he has it."
Still, given Huntsman's somewhat-coy response to the idea of a Senate bid, the professor notes that Huntsman is clearly not "closing the door."