Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R), who recently returned from Beijing after serving 18 months as President Obama's Ambassador to China, took his first definite step toward a presidential campaign today by filing paperwork to form a federal political action committee, allowing him to begin raising money for a possible 2012 bid.
Huntsman filed papers with the Federal Election Committee to create H PAC, not to be confused with Horizon PAC, the organization launched in February by several Huntsman supporters who would be key advisers if the former governor runs for president. The formation of a federal PAC represents Huntsman's first move toward a presidential campaign, and allows him to raise money in order to travel to early primary states and hire staffers. Money raised by H PAC can be transferred to any future presidential campaign.
If he runs, Huntsman plans to skip the exploratory phase and jump straight from the federal PAC to a full-fledged presidential campaign, according to Horizon PAC spokesman Tim Miller. "He does not want to participate in all the other [exploratory] stages," Miller said.
An official with the newly formed PAC sought to downplay any immediate presidential speculation caused by the committee's formation, saying, "This is simply an organizational step that allows Gov. Huntsman to travel the country to discuss the issues he cares about as well as support Republican candidates."
Sources close to Huntsman expect him to make a final decision by early summer, but in the meantime his schedule is shaping up like that of a candidate: He travels to South Carolina on Sunday to deliver a commencement address at the University of South Carolina, and speak to the Windham Republican Town Committee. He visits New Hampshire two weeks later to speak at Southern New Hampshire University.
The first scheduled Republican primary debate is Thursday in South Carolina, but sources close to Huntsman said he won't be participating.