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Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. confirms he's considering running for Senate in 2018

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. confirmed Tuesday he is considering a run in 2018 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

"We're going to take a good look at this over the next six months to see how best to serve a great state," Huntsman told the Deseret News after talking about a potential run in a podcast interview with Bloomberg News that was released Tuesday.

"I've always said that I've got one more run left in our bones. And I don't know what that will be, but I love this country," Huntsman said in the Bloomberg interview. "We're going to take a good look at maybe a future Senate run in the state of Utah."

Huntsman, who calls Utah home despite living in the Washington, D.C., area after serving as ambassador to China and a short-lived presidential run in 2012, said his decision "in part would be based on what Sen. Hatch chooses to do."

Hatch, 82, had said during his 2012 primary election that he would not seek an eighth term. But the Senate president pro tempore, who is third in the line of presidential succession, said Tuesday he is being encouraged to run again.

"With (President-elect Donald) Trump winning and so forth, I think the circumstances have changed dramatically," Hatch said, according to Bloomberg News, citing his support of Trump before the election.

Utah GOP Chairman James Evans has said Hatch is necessary to ensuring the state maintains a good relationship with the new administration. Some Republican leaders in Utah failed to back Trump, who won the state with 45.5 percent of the vote.

Huntsman suggested it may be time for Hatch to go.

"He has been a productive senator for nearly half a century, and I'm somebody personally who believes in term limits," Huntsman told Bloomberg. "I always have. You get into your job and you get out, hopefully leaving it a little better for the next person to take over."

Huntsman was first elected governor in 2004 and resigned a year into his second term to take the ambassadorship offered by President Barack Obama. His bid for the White House ended after a third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary.

The list of potential GOP candidates for the Senate seat includes Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah; Josh Romney, son of 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney; and former state lawmaker Dan Liljenquist, who forced Hatch into a primary in 2012.

Republican Derek Miller, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, and a former chief of staff to Huntsman's successor, Gov. Gary Herbert, has said publicly he's looking at a run.

On the Democratic side, former Congressman Jim Matheson is seen as a top contender.

"Huntsman would be a formidable candidate. He was a popular and well-respected governor in the state," said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

Still, Karpowitz said, voters may question Huntsman having "been gone for some period of time. And he's worked in the Obama administration, and he's flirted with supporting Donald Trump. … He's been all over the map ideologically."

Huntsman, who had urged fellow Republicans to get behind Trump earlier this year, said Trump should drop out after a 2005 video surfaced of the billionaire businessman using graphic terms to describe making sexual advances on women.

Kirk Jowers, the former head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Huntsman would be the toughest candidate to beat, in part because of his well-known philanthropic family.

Jowers said Huntsman's decision to talk about the race should be a warning to any would-be competitors.

"Huntsman has positioned himself very well. The not-too-well disguised secret is now public," he said. "So for anyone looking at that race, they know they would have to beat either Sen. Hatch and/or Jon Huntsman, and that is a challenge not for the faint of heart."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

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