Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman's supporters are betting he comes out on top after President Obama's "death hug" Wednesday of the possible presidential candidate.
A Huntsman ally accused the president of "trying to meddle in the GOP primary" when Obama, at a press availability this morning to announce his new Chinese ambassador, effusively praised Huntsman, the outgoing ambassador who's mulling a challenge to Obama in 2012.
"Jon has been an outstanding advocate for this administration and for this country," Obama said in a statement this morning. "He made a real sacrifice in moving his family out of the state that they loved, and has helped to strengthen our critical relationship with the Chinese government and the Chinese people. And so I am very grateful for his service."
But Huntsman supporters say they'll ultimately benefit from Obama's handling of his outgoing ambassador, heaping praise on him so as to make him unpalatable to GOP primary voters.
"The president is clearly trying to meddle in the GOP primary because he wants to face the weakest possible opponent," said a strategist who would be involved in a potential Huntsman campaign. "Trying to kill Huntsman with kindness this stage benefits him. It elevates him and plays right into the electability argument. Plus voters are smart enough to see through this type of tactic."
Huntsman isn't formally in the race at this point; he's leaving his post as ambassador in late April, and may take some time to decide whether to run and to set up a campaign organization.
Some Republicans, however, have already bristled at Huntsman's potential candidacy precisely because of his service in the Obama administration. John Sununu, Sr., the former governor and state GOP chairman in New Hampshire, a state where Huntsman would focus his campaign efforts, has already vowed to work against Huntsman in the Granite State.
Allies are betting that Huntsman, also the former Republican governor of Utah, would have the opportunity to define himself if he runs.
"Huntsman will have the opportunity to define his departure from Obama if he decides to run," the strategist said of Obama's cozy words toward the ambassador. "This isn't going to hinder that at all."