This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Washington • With reports that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is now in the mix along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney of candidates to be Donald Trump's secretary of state, two of Utah's best-known politicians are once again pitted against each other.
This isn't the first time Romney and Huntsman have competed for the same job. It isn't even the second time.
Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, has met twice with the president-elect, including over dinner in New York City last week after which the former vocal Trump critic lauded him. As of Monday morning, Huntsman had yet to talk to or meet with Trump but the former U.S. ambassador to China's name surfaced over the weekend as a possible choice.
"I am greatly honored that my name is in the mix in an expanded large group of people," Huntsman told Fox Business Network's "Mornings with Maria" on Monday. "I have not had the meeting, but I think it's really important and that it says something about the president-elect, that he's taking this job very seriously, he's reviewing the candidates, looking at the issues, bringing in different voices who maybe see differently America's role in the world, and that's a good thing. This is not a position that should be forced on anybody."
Though fifth cousins and from Mormon families that have crossed paths for generations, Romney and Huntsman didn't know each other well before they began competing for the same job in 1999 as the upcoming 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City were being tarred by scandal.
Both men wanted to step in to lead the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and save the troubled event, and Huntsman was interviewed. The job ultimately went to Romney, who used that platform on the world stage as a springboard to become Massachusetts' governor.
The two again sparred in 2011 as they were seeking the presidency. Huntsman's campaign flopped, but Romney went on to lead the Republican ticket, losing the 2012 election to President Barack Obama.
Huntsman, in addition to his ambassadorship in China, was a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore and onetime U.S. deputy trade representative, and he is widely known as an expert in U.S.-Sino relations. He also is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Romney has never served in a foreign-policy position.
Romney, though, did interact with foreign leaders as head of the Salt Lake Games and as the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.
Trump had praised a "great" meeting with Romney, and in turn, Romney said the two had a "far-reaching conversation" with regard to foreign policy. That meeting yielded a second sit-down, over dinner, and Romney lauded Trump afterward.
It's unclear, though, if new names being added to Trump's short list for secretary of state mean Romney's stock is sliding, although some key Trump advisers have repeatedly aired and continue raising concerns that Romney's past criticisms including calling Trump a "phony" and a "fraud" are deal-killers.
"My view at this point in time is the fact that Mitt's name has been in there, and he hasn't been selected, and they're looking elsewhere, then perhaps it looks like his consideration is fading," said Don Peay, founder of the group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and who led Trump's campaign in Utah. "That's not inside information; that's just an observation."
Peay, who declined to comment on whether Huntsman's name has come up in his conversations with the Trump transition team, praised the former Utah governor.
"Jon would be great as secretary of state; obviously [he's] super-qualified," Peay said. "I do know that he has a relationship with the Trumps."
Huntsman's diplomatic experience, combined with the idea that he isn't a CEO who wants to play the "alpha dog" role, means he could be a great ambassador for the United States and the incoming president, Peay added.
Peay is a vocal supporter of Sen. Orrin Hatch's exploration of running for an eighth term, a race in which Huntsman has acknowledged some interest.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, an early supporter of Trump who has been meeting with his transition team, said Huntsman's name hasn't come up in his conversations but his discussions have been focused more on the transportation side of the incoming administration.
"It's an exciting name to come forward," Hughes said of Huntsman. "I served with Governor Huntsman. I have a great relationship with him and, given his experience, I think he'd do an incredible job." Hughes added that he knows Romney by reputation but is not nearly as close to him as he is to Huntsman.
Beyond Huntsman and Romney, the list of potential secretary of state nominees includes former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, retired Gen. David Petraeus, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
The Trump team has said to expect most Cabinet positions to be announced this week.
Editor's note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Salt Lake Tribune owner and Publisher Paul Huntsman