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The 2012 Hopefuls: Jon Huntsman

Learn about the former GOP presidential candidate and his views on Social Security, Medicare and more

Jon Huntsman, Republican Candidates President 2012

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Surrounded by family, Jon Huntsman appears at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., to announce his candidacy. His experience includes two terms as Utah's governor and service as a U.S. ambassador.

Jon Huntsman Jr.                                                                             (Dropped out of race on Jan. 16, 2012)

Born: March 26, 1960, in Palo Alto, Calif.

Job history: U.S. ambassador to China (appointed by President Obama), 2009-10; governor of Utah, 2005-09; U.S. trade representative, 2001-03; U.S. ambassador to Singapore, 1992-93; White House assistant to President Ronald Reagan, 1982-83

Education: B.A., University of Pennsylvania

Personal: Married to Mary Kaye (Cooper) Huntsman; Mormon

Campaign website:

In a year when Tea Party pressure has GOP candidates lining up to claim the mantle of "most conservative," Jon Huntsman starts out with a pretty tough-to-explain résumé item: His last employer was Barack Obama. Still, the former rock-and-roll musician (who happens to speak fluent Mandarin) is attracting attention as a moderate alternative to the more conservative Republican candidates.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

Huntsman, who bristles at being called the "moderate" in the GOP field, touts his record as a fiscal conservative during his governorship. On retirement issues, he has been walking a careful line, refusing to criticize his GOP colleagues for their more drastic proposals for Medicare while still suggesting that he might favor some tweaks.

In an interview with Good Morning America, Huntsman said he would have voted for the plan by Rep. Paul Ryan to overhaul Medicare. Why? "Because the only thing that scares me more than that is the trajectory that our debt is taking … And we've got to be bold, and we've got to have, I think, proposals on the table that perhaps in years past would've been laughed out of the room. And we've got to look seriously at them. We don't have a choice. We've hit the wall," Huntsman said.

Asked in early June about the controversial proposal, Huntsman was more circumspect, saying that "there is a lot that is part of the Ryan plan that needs to be considered." He called block-granting Medicaid "a good thing, because right now Medicaid is blowing a hole in budgets throughout the United States." In 2006, when the Utah legislature cut money for dental coverage for Medicaid patients, Huntsman led a successful effort to collect private donations to cover the cost. He has made no proposals for overhauling Social Security.

Huntsman told GMA he would like to repeal the new health care law, but added that he wants it replaced with something else. In his own state, Huntsman signed a health care reform law, but it did not include an individual mandate.

Taxes and budget

Huntsman has been praised by fiscal watchdog groups, such as the Cato Institute, for cutting taxes and said during a campaign stop in New Hampshire that he wants a new "industrial revolution" led by tax and regulatory reform and domestic energy development.

Huntsman said he favored raising the debt ceiling if the increase was offset by "a corresponding number of cuts." As Utah's governor, Huntsman did accept federal cash under Obama's economic stimulus plan, a program derided by congressional Republicans. Huntsman calls himself "a pragmatic problem solver. Voters want someone focused who's going to look laser-like on jobs and keeping this economy moving forward in ways that will maintain our preeminence in the world."

Susan Milligan is a prize-winning Washington reporter.

Also of interest: AARP’s voter education guide.

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