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Former presidential candidate and ambassador to Russia joins Utah governor's race

After appearing on the world stage as ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, Jr., is ready to resume his political career at home. The former U.S. ambassador and presidential candidate announced on Thursday that he's running for governor of Utah — a job he previously held.

Huntsman occupied the governor's mansion from 2005 to 2009. He left to become President Obama's ambassador to China and later went on to serve as President Trump's ambassador to Russia. He resigned from that post in August after holding it through two years of rocky U.S.-Russia relations.

In a video announcing his candidacy, Huntsman touted his global résumé and argued that state government needs to be "led by people who understand the broader world and what we are up against."

"We're competing against nation-states," he said. "You can't just wish globalization away," or we'll fall behind.

In between his diplomacy jobs, he ran for president in 2012 but lost the Republican nomination to another wealthy, Mormon Utahan — Mitt Romney, who is now a U.S. senator.

Huntsman 2020 by Huntsman for Governor 2020 on YouTube

Huntsman is running to succeed fellow Republican Gary Herbert, who is not running for re-election and has endorsed his lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox. Other Republican candidates in the race include businessman Jeff Burningham, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton and and Jason Christensen. There is one Democrat in the race, Zachary Moses, but Utah hasn't elected a Democrat for governor since the early '80s. 

Huntsman is viewed as a moderate conservative. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, he weighed in on several current efforts in the legislature.

On LGBT issues, he signaled a willingness to join the growing number of states that have banned conversion therapy. Huntsman called it "junk science" but said he wouldn't make a final decision until reviewing the proposed ban. 

He also largely supported the current governor's push to lower the sales tax rate but start taxing services like Netflix and Uber — a move other states are considering as consumers rely more on services than traditional goods. He expressed reserve, however, in raising the sales tax on groceries.

In his campaign video, he said growth is "the most pressing issue" facing Utah, which is one of the fastest-growing states in terms of population. The extra people require extra attention to the state's economy, education and air quality, he said. 

2015 Concordia Summit - Day 2
Jon Huntsman speaks on stage during the 2015 Concordia Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on October 2, 2015 in New York City. Leigh Vogel

Like many governors, he also took aim at federal politics.

"Utah must stay ahead of the dysfunction in Washington," he said, "to protect our states' rights and way of life."

He expanded upon why he's "not much into the national political scene" in his interview with the Tribune.

"It's a lot of wasted time, a lot of theatrics and kicking up dust, and not a lot of effort that goes into problem-solving," he said.

Christina Ruffini and Emily Tillett contributed reporting.

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