The Stealth Challenger To Obama

President Obama’s former ambassador to China declared Tuesday he’ll announce his candidacy against his old boss “a week from today.” The Daily Beast’s McKay Coppins reports from the event.

Jon Huntsman, Jr. told a VIP crowd of journalists, diplomats, and CEOs Tuesday afternoon that he plans to announce his presidential candidacy in one week, joking that “since we’re in selected company and there aren’t many people listening in” he could safely declare his intentions.

Article - Coppins Jon Huntsman Announcement

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, with wife Karen, at the Department of New Hampshire VFW Annual Convention in Nashua, New Hampshire on June 11, 2011. (Photo: Cheryl Senter / AP Photo)

Huntsman, a moderate Republican who is fluent in Mandarin, is expected to announce his candidacy on June 21 at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. His campaign will be based in Florida.

Tuesday’s event was a Thomson Reuters luncheon featuring a discussion about the rising power of China between Huntsman—who served as U.S. ambassador to the country—and Henry Kissinger. The event was moderated by Sir Harold Evans, newly appointed Reuters editor at large who is married to Newsweek/Daily Beast Editor in Chief Tina Brown.

During a Q&A session following the planned discussion, Huntsman was asked how his experience in China would set him apart from other candidates in the Republican field.

Huntsman responded by inverting the question, describing how his presidency would affect future ambassadors’ experiences in China. Huntsman said America’s position with China won’t improve until the United States employs better economic policies.

“We sit diminished and discounted at the negotiating table, and everybody knows it,” Huntsman said.

“The single best improvement we could make [to our relationship with China] would happen right here at home,” Huntsman said. “Which is getting our own house in order. We sit diminished and discounted at the negotiating table, and everybody knows it.”

But while the conversation on stage revolved around cybersecurity, diplomatic tensions, and abortion policies in China, those in attendance were buzzing about Huntsman’s presidential ambitions.

William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, was at the luncheon—30 stories above Times Square in Manhattan—and made little effort to hide his fascination with Huntsman’s long-shot bid for the presidency.

“I’m a Romney guy as you know,” Weld said. “But I’m delighted to see Huntsman in, and I told him so. The only thing is Romney and Huntsman can’t be on the same ticket because they’re both Mormons. Romney’s running very strong right now, but God, you never know. So that could be the void [Huntsman] fills.”

Huntsman also told the crowd—which included Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Mort Zuckerman, and Christiane Amanpour—that his son enlisted in the Navy on Tuesday, and stressed the important role military strategy will play in U.S./China relations.

McKay Coppins is a reporter for Newsweek and The Daily Beast covering politics and national affairs. His writing has also appeared in The Daily Caller and Salt Lake City’s Deseret News.

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