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Obama reaches across political divide for envoy to China

Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah is a Republican moderate and China expert seen as a possible presidential candidate.

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President Barack Obama announces the nomination of Utah Governor John Huntsman as U.S. Ambassador to China in the White House on Saturday.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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With a reach across the political divide for Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China, President Barack Obama may have sidelined for now a potentially formidable Republican moderate and possible White House challenger in 2012.

Yet Gov. Huntsman, who has upset the GOP's conservative base by supporting gay civil unions, may gain, too. The appointment, which requires Senate approval, gives him a chance to burnish his credentials and position himself as a viable presidential contender in 2016, if Obama appears to be a strong candidate for a second term in 2012.

John Weaver, a one-time senior strategist for John McCain's presidential campaign who now advises Huntsman, said the governor put country ahead of personal partisan interest. Huntsman was national co-chairman of McCain's failed bid against Obama.

"It's no more complicated than that, though it is so unusual in Washington everyone has to take a magnifying glass to it," Mr. Weaver said after Obama introduced Huntsman in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room.

"He was asked by the president to serve in a major diplomatic post, in a mission with a country most important to our economy, in dealing with Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea. Jon is uniquely qualified and thus you don't turn your nation down," Weaver said.

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