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Huntsman backs McCain, diversity

Says religion issue is overplayed, still admires Romney

Both Mitt Romney and John McCain would make great presidents, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Wednesday, but his decision to back the Arizona senator helps reflect Utah's diversity.

The governor's support of McCain surprised many since Romney, a former Utah Olympic leader and now governor of Massachusetts, is a fellow member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I don't think it does anybody any good to see it through a religious prism," Huntsman said. "This is much broader than that. And I think the LDS population is to be seen as broader than that and increasingly diverse in its interests and its aspirations and its makeup."

Huntsman said he and McCain share opinions on "important issues I feel strongly about, like immigration and Iraq." Utah's governor turned to McCain for advice on immigration and traveled to Iraq with him earlier this year to visit troops at the senator's invitation.

Romney, Huntsman said, "is one of the most impressive human beings I've ever run across and I think he'd make a great president. However, being politically monochromatic as a state isn't always in our long-term interests," particularly if another candidate wins.

And, he said, "to the extent we can reflect a little bit of diversity on behalf of our state, I think that's also a good thing." The issue of Romney's religion, the governor said, "has been overplayed."

Huntsman said he didn't consider whether he'd have a better chance of being asked to serve in a McCain administration — and wouldn't be interested anyway. "I want to serve out this term. I want to serve another term," he said. "I love this job."

Neither McCain nor Romney have formally entered the race for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. Huntsman will serve as one of many co-chairmen of McCain's political action committee, Straight Talk America.