GOP hopeful Jon Huntsman speaks in Milford, N.H., on Dec. 8.
GOP hopeful Jon Huntsman speaks in Milford, N.H., on Dec. 8. Cheryl Senter/AP
He is former governor of Utah and the namesake of a very rich man. His father, a Salt Lake City bazillionaire, owns a chemical company that really blossomed when it created packaging for McDonald's Big Macs. His father also served in the Nixon administration, so Jon Huntsman Jr. lived in Washington as a young boy.
It's no secret that Huntsman grew up in the Mormon Church and served his two-year missionary stint in Taiwan, where he learned to speak Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien. He also did stretches as a civil servant for several presidents, then in 2004 was elected Utah's governor. In 2009, President Obama appointed him ambassador to China.
He rides a Harley-Davidson and likes tacos. He and his wife, Mary Kaye, have seven children, including Asha Bharati, adopted from India, and Gracie Mei, who had been abandoned in a Chinese vegetable market. Three of the Huntsman daughters — Mary Anne, Liddy and Abby — are using Twitter in creative, sometimes edgy ways to promote their father's candidacy.
But here are a few more things you may not know about Jon Huntsman:
1. He was a musical theater prodigy. "I have sung the part of Oliver and Tiny Tim in church," Huntsman wrote in his resume when he was 15 years old and working at Mikado in Salt Lake City. At the Japanese restaurant, Huntsman toiled away as a dishwasher, prep cook and busboy. (Huntsman tweeted that someone scrounged up his curriculum vitae from the mid-1970s.) He also worked as a stonemason in the summer of 1974, was on his school's track and basketball teams, and enjoyed music, singing, tennis, swimming, skiing, motocross and camping.
2. He dropped out of high school — but he did graduate from college. In 1978, Huntsman quit school to play keyboards in the rock band Wizard. Eventually he was able to take classes at the University of Utah "after proving himself academically," according to his campaign website. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. He still tickles the ivories occasionally and tweets about his love of Captain Beefheart.
3. He has said he doesn't like campaigning. When President George H.W. Bush was defeated, according to a 1994 Forbes story, many people thought that Huntsman, then U.S. ambassador to Singapore, would go back to Utah and run for Congress. But Huntsman said he wasn't interested. "A commuter lifestyle didn't appeal to me," he told the magazine. "Nor did the campaign process."
4. He is respectful of China. In 1996, Huntsman, then a vice president of his father's multimillion-dollar chemical corporation, gave readers of Plastic News some advice about how to deal with China. "I'm aghast at the number of people who go there without any guidance," Huntsman said. "You need to hear both sides of China, both good and bad, particularly if you don't have a lot of resources. Consultation on the front end will save a lot of dyspepsia on the back end."
Ajit Solanki /AP
Jon Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye, with their adopted daughter, Asha Bharati, at Matruchhaya Orphanage in Nadiad, India, Dec. 19, 2006.
Jon Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye, with their adopted daughter, Asha Bharati, at Matruchhaya Orphanage in Nadiad, India, Dec. 19, 2006. Ajit Solanki /AP
5. He once found a flak jacket under his Christmas tree. In 2005, then-Gov. Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye, asked the spouses of the Utah National Guard to adorn the Christmas tree in the governor's mansion. Decorations included framed photos of fallen military service members, a pair of boots still sandy from the Iraqi desert, a helmet and a flak jacket. "We could have had Santa Claus," Huntsman told The New York Times. "But to us, this was the most poignant way to celebrate the meaning of Christmas: a time of service, sacrifice and peace."