ST. PAUL, Minn. The Republican National Convention is being scaled back because of Hurricane Gustav, but that's not stopping Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. from stepping in for GOP presidential candidate John McCain this week.
As one of McCain's top surrogates at the convention, Huntsman will be making pitches for the candidate on all of the major cable news outlets, including Fox News, as well as to the Washington Post and other widely read publications.
He's also taking McCain's message to a number of state delegations, including Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana, as well as to the Republican Jewish Coalition.
"I was told today I'm doing more of these than anybody else," the governor said shortly after arriving in Minnesota on Sunday. He said his high-profile role at the convention on McCain's behalf is a result of being one of the campaign's four national co-chairs.
His loyalty to McCain also has earned him a prime-time speaking slot at the convention on Tuesday night and an opportunity Sunday to share the spotlight with several GOP heavy-hitters, including John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Both Huntsman and Bolton addressed the first gathering of delegates from McCain's home state of Arizona at a mid-afternoon cocktail party Sunday. The governor told the jovial crowd that if McCain were there, "he would be reminding us we've got other things to worry about" than the convention.
Huntsman tried to strike a somber tone with the celebratory crowd by talking about the need for service and sacrifice from the nation's leaders and citing McCain's time in as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Even if it's a political convention, politics is something that should be set aside.
"We are first and foremost Americans," he said.
But the Arizona Republicans, clearly enjoying the status that comes from being the home state of the party's nominee, seemed to be paying little attention to any of the speakers, whichwho also included Meg Whitman, former head of eBay, and Robert "Bud" McFarlane, former President Reagan's national security adviser.
The Arizona delegates, who are staying in a luxury hotel just across the street from the Xcel Energy Center where the convention is being held, were welcomed at the Sunday party in a nearby castle-like historical building by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
In contrast, the Utah delegates are staying miles away in Bloomington, Minn. The biggest name they're scheduled to hear from this week is former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like the majority of Utahns.
Huntsman, a Utah delegate, is staying in the same St. Paul hotel as McCain. He will not be with the Utah delegation when they hear from Romney, however, because of a conflicting media interview.
Despite all the special attention the governor is getting, he has downplayed any suggestion there's a place for him in a McCain administration. But Huntsman was rumored to have been a vice-presidential contender, and even members of the Utah delegation believe he could be called to serve in a GOP White House.
Richard Snelgrove, for example, said he expects a President McCain to name Huntsman ambassador to China. Huntsman has already served as the U.S. ambassador to Singapore, as well as a U.S. trade representative to China and other parts of Asia.
Another Utah delegate, Justin Allen, had a similar prediction. "Huntsman would surely be tempted by a job related to China," Allen said, even though the governor is seeking a second term this November.
Two years ago that Huntsman surprised many Utahns by backing McCain for president over Romney, who went on to win the state's GOP presidential primary last February with an overwhelming 90 percent of the vote.
Most Utah GOP leaders had quickly backed Romney's bid for the White House and helped him raise $6 million in the state for his unsuccessful campaign. Huntsman stuck with McCain even when the campaign was struggling financially and written off by pundits.Huntsman said he hopes his appearances on behalf of the campaign will help attract attention to Utah. "I've just been a volunteer," he said when asked about the significance of his position with the McCain campaign. "I do what I'm asked to do."
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