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Jon Huntsman Sr. says voters just need to get to know his son

 Jon Huntsman Sr. pauses at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City  Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011.
Jon Huntsman Sr. pauses at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The biggest problem with Jon Huntsman Jr.'s presidential bid is that the public hasn't gotten to know yet just how perfect he'd be for the job.

At least according to his proud father.

"I think when they get to know Jon Jr., they'll recognize what a tremendously talented and capable individual he is," Jon Huntsman Sr. said. "That comes straight from a father."

The billionaire industrialist and philanthropist offered his views on his son's campaign during an interview about a major expansion of the Huntsman Cancer Institute that will be dedicated Friday. Huntsman Jr. is expected to be in Utah for the event.

The younger Huntsman was elected twice as governor of Utah and then spent 1½ years as U.S. ambassador to China before jumping into the presidential race. He continues to lags in the GOP field polls.

"If he were running for president of China, he would have already won the election," his father said. "But he's had to come here and start from scratch."

Other Republicans in the race, Huntsman Sr. noted, have been campaigning for years, not just months.

"Most of the other candidates had a year or two or three or four. Mitt's had six," Huntsman Sr. said, referring to former Salt Lake Olympic leader Mitt Romney, who also sought the White House in 2008.

In that race, Huntsman Sr. raised money as a finance co-chairman for Romney, a fellow member of the LDS Church, while Huntsman Jr. campaigned for the party's eventual nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Huntsman Sr. said his son faced a tough transition from holding one of the nation's top diplomatic posts to hitting the campaign trail.

"One has to understand that six months ago, he was helping to resolve the problems of China, and dealing with problems, or situations, in North Korea and Taiwan" as well as China's financial interests in the United States.

"Then all of a sudden, your focus shifts to all of these public policy issues from the United States and it's a very different set of conditions," Huntsman Sr. said. "I think he's made a remarkable transition."

He provided a long list of his son's attributes that have helped Huntsman Jr. boost both the family's name and that of the institute, where he served as the foundation's first president.

"I think that Jon Jr., first of all, is a great fighter. He's a great competitor. Nothing gets him down. He's a great optimist. And he doesn't get uptight. Nobody gets to him," Huntsman Sr. said.

The public had the opportunity, he said, to witness those qualities firsthand during the recent GOP debate in Las Vegas, where Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry had several heated exchanges.

"They were kind of shooting at each other and you know, getting very upset. You'll never see Jon Jr. get upset. He keeps his cool," Huntsman Sr. said, even under fire.

"That's the kind of person you want to see, who has their hand on the trigger or who can negotiate with future enemies of America or the great challenges of the economics of America."

His son, he said, never gets unraveled when the going gets tough. "I love that part about him. I've never seen him upset in his life. I've tried, as his father, to test him from time to time, but he's a very savvy man."

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