Utah Governor Huntsman Brushes Off VP Questions

An early backer of John McCain's presidential campaign, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is thought to be in the running for the Republican vice presidential slot, though he said in an interview with ABC News — as any good Veepstakes contender might — that the rumors come as a surprise to him.

"I've not had a single conversation [with the McCain campaign about the vice presidential process]. There are many who probably are in this particular category and will enter that particular phase of vetting and review, I don't necessarily think that I would be one of them," Hunstman told ABC News at a meeting of the nation's governors over the weekend in Philadelphia.

The governor also said he has not been asked to turn over any documents for a background check — standard operating procedure in past vice presidential selection processes.

Hunt for McCain's Vice President

Huntsman can deny that he's under review all he wants, but the fact remains that his ideas and experience may very well be exactly what McCain is looking for.

Like McCain, Huntsman wants to move the Republican Party in a different direction. He thinks the GOP should go back to a more conservationist message with "respect for lands" in the tradition of President Theodore Roosevelt.

He agrees with McCain that Republicans should show greater concern about the environment and climate change. And like McCain, Huntsman is in favor of a cap-and-trade system to battle climate change. He's taken action as governor to improve air quality in Utah.

One of the main reasons he pushed to move most of the Utah's government workers to a three-day weekend, he said, was to reduce the level of energy used in government buildings. And Utah has a statewide energy efficiency strategy to achieve a 20 percent reduction in energy use by 2015.

"I'm responsible for a carbon footprint that I take seriously," said Huntsman, in language that might be as strange for a Republican as McCain's "pathway to citizenship" for illegal immigrants.

McCain and Huntsman do have an important difference on a gas tax holiday.

Huntsman said he was not necessarily in favor of a gas tax holiday on the state level because, "we have bills to pay." But he thinks the federal government can be a little more flexible than the states in terms of letting the money go.

Reagan Republican

Huntsman's resume is long and varied — he served as a White House staff assistant to President Ronald Reagan and as a Deputy United States Trade Representative.

Huntsman, who was elected to Utah's top job in 2004, is the son of the billionaire chemicals businessman and philanthropist, Jon Huntsman, Sr. and before he began is career in public service, he was an executive for his father's corporation and holdings company.

Ironically, while the governor backed McCain in the GOP primaries, his dad served as a finance co-chair for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney — who could land the vice presidential nod over his son.

Huntsman said his father is not pushing for the McCain campaign to pick Romney; instead he's focusing on his cancer foundation.

Mormon Candidate

Huntsman's business background certainly helps his stock as a vice presidential candidate probably as much as it does for Romney, but both men share in common what many believe could make McCain hesitate from selecting either man — they are both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Romney's failed presidential campaign never escaped questions about whether the country was ready to elect a Mormon and Huntsman said it's hard to know if Romney helped the country gain a greater understanding of Mormonism.

"There were certainly pockets of misunderstanding around the country and I think there have been for a long time and I'm not sure that's an easy issue to resolve."

Huntsman describes Sen. McCain as a friend and he said the two talk every now and again. He recalled when the men first met in 1996 when McCain was helping the former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole's presidential campaign.

In the days immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Huntsman was confronted with McCain's personal history.

On a trade mission in Vietnam on September 11, and unable to fly back to the states for several days, Huntsman visited the remains of the Hanoi Hilton, where McCain's jail cell and flight suit are on display.

The experience was deeply moving for Huntsman as he reflected on the future of the country.

"I thought this is the kind of leadership that will be required to navigate these very difficult and treacherous (times) ahead for our country. Someone who has sacrificed, someone who understands how to put service before self, some one who has dealt with an enemy, and just as importantly, has reconciled with the enemy."

Held in a Vietnamese prison camp for five years, McCain has been a big booster of U.S. relations with Vietnam, something the governor greatly admires.

If he's not tapped to be McCain's vice presidential pick, he hopes to serve another term as Utah governor -- where his reelection is nearly assured in November -- and then retire to more time with his family.

Perhaps he'll have more time for his bike. The governor enjoys motorcross and supermoto racing. And in a move that drive his staff crazy, he occasionally rides and races.