Huntsman, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China until resigning April 30, made what Thune described as a courtesy call while traveling to key states on the Republican presidential primary calendar.
Thune told Roll Call that his relationship with Huntsman dates back to their mutual support for the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), adding that they have traveled together to Iraq.
“He’s just returned from a stint in China and is giving a lot of consideration whether or not to make this race, and I’m guessing he’ll probably say something before too long,” Thune said.
Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, is relatively unknown in Congress. But Senate Republicans seemed open to learning more about him, even though he would be running to unseat the administration in which he recently served in such a high-profile post.
“He’s going to have to make his case, obviously, to Republican primary voters if he decides to run. I don’t know that that’s a certainty yet,” Thune said. “But he’s obviously a very smart and very accomplished governor. He would enter the race at a time when I think people are looking for people who have solved problems. That’s why I think governors are making a very strong argument to the American people.”
Thune, the Senate Republican Policy Committee chairman and No. 4 in leadership, opted against a presidential bid earlier this year. He has not, however, ruled out running in the future or joining a ticket as the vice presidential nominee.
Member endorsements often have nominal traction with primary voters. But such support can translate into the grass-roots and fundraising support that is crucial to building a successful campaign operation. Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said his boss is pleased with the reception he has received from Members since leaving Beijing.
“Gov. Huntsman has been very encouraged by all the positive feedback he’s received on the Hill in the short time he’s been back,” Miller said.
Since returning from China, Huntsman delivered a commencement speech in the early primary state of South Carolina and plans to head to New Hampshire later this month for a five-day Granite State blitz. The Republican unveiled a new federal political action committee within days of what had been a long-announced resignation as ambassador and has more campaign-style appearances before potential GOP primary voters planned.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.