"He is a heck of a lot nicer," said longtime friend Lew Cramer, head of Utah's World Trade Center. "He has a longer view. He has a vision for a decade from now, two decades" — well beyond a CEO's focus on the most recent bottom line.
Cramer called Huntsman "a real consensus builder. He's very supportive of his employees. He seeks their input. … He's not necessarily 'rough and tumble' in a staff-meeting conversation. He's thoughtful and he's gracious."
Those traits build loyalty among his associates, Cramer said.
"We'd go through hell with an open can of gasoline for him," he said. "He's the kind of person I want to follow."
Cramer, who has met with a number of international officials in his role attracting economic development to the state, said Huntsman stands out for his knowledge of world affairs.
"There's no smarter diplomat in the Republican Party than Jon Huntsman," Cramer said.
Diplomat, though, isn't usually a description that comes to mind when choosing a president, said Matthew Wilson, a professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who specializes in religion and politics.
"The presidency is an executive position," Wilson said. "Most people see that as a CEO rather than a diplomat. The president is the nation's chief executive, so in that sense, there's a more natural transition from a corporate leadership model to the presidency than there is from a diplomacy model."
A president is bombarded by so many voices clamoring to be heard, he said, it can be difficult to even listen to all of them, let alone take the time to work through their differences as a diplomat would do.
"If the president truly does try to reach a broad consensus of everyone, he can be paralyzed into inaction," Wilson said. "That's one of the pitfalls of the diplomacy model."
Voters, he said, appreciated former President George W. Bush's declaration that he was the nation's "decider," and have criticized Obama for not taking more decisive action on some issues.
Romney is showcasing his corporate leadership skills on the campaign trail. "His experience in the private sector, in business, marks him," Wilson said. "Romney obviously has very wide recognition."
But he said the country's voters know little about Huntsman.
"Quite honestly, I think the national perception of Jon Huntsman is, 'Oh, he's the other Mormon out there.' That's about as deep as the knowledge goes," Wilson said.
Huntsman's service as U.S. ambassador to China under Obama doesn't mean much to voters, he said, because it doesn't communicate any particular view or ideology — just experience as a diplomat.
"That's a line on his resume, which is good. But again, if you were to try to say what's Jon Huntsman's signature issue or Jon Huntsman's new and bold proposal, I'm not sure most people could come up with anything."
Valentine suggested Romney and Huntsman have something to learn from each other.
"If I had to advise Romney, I'd say, 'Romney, you have to make sure you have consensus building,' " Valentine said. "If I had to advise Huntsman, I'd say, 'You have to look more like you're making decisions' … rather than building consensus."
Political experience: Elected governor of Utah 2004, re-elected 2008
Professional experience: Huntsman Chemical executive, board vice-chairman and board member; U.S. Commerce Department deputy assistant secretary; U.S. ambassador to Singapore; U.S. trade ambassador to Asia and Africa; U.S. ambassador to China
Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully in 1994 for Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy; elected governor of Massachusetts 2002
Professional experience: Bain & Co. consultant and CEO; founder of Bain Capital, a private investment firm that started and re-tooled companies including Staples and Domino's Pizza; Salt Lake Organizing Committee CEO
Email: email@example.com. Twitter: dnewspolitics
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