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Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
FILE - This Oct. 30, 2012, file photo shows then-Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Kettering, Ohio. While speculation that Mitt Romney may make a third presidential run is increasing, another former White House candidate with Utah ties is sparking new talk that he, too, might run again.
Both of Utah's favorite sons, Romney and Huntsman, appear to be approaching another presidential run in nontraditional terms. —Kirk Jowers

SALT LAKE CITY — While speculation that Mitt Romney may make a third presidential bid is increasing, another former White House candidate with Utah ties is sparking new talk that he, too, might run again.

Former Utah Gov Jon Huntsman Jr. recently wrote a column for Time magazine, declaring "It's Time to Break the Gridlock," appeared on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," and was described by Buzzfeed as considering a run as an independent.

Both Romney and Huntsman have said repeatedly they're not running in 2016, yet both are remaining clearly in the spotlight.

Just last week, Ann Romney told Fox News' Neil Cavuto, "Well, we will see, won't we, Neil," when asked if a third run for president would be appealing to her husband, helping to generate a new round of stories about "Romney 2016."

Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, first ran for president in 2008 and was chosen as the GOP nominee in 2012. He, too, has hinted at a third run, telling one interviewer "circumstances can change."

"Both of Utah's favorite sons, Romney and Huntsman, appear to be approaching another presidential run in nontraditional terms," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Jowers, a longtime Romney supporter who is also close to Huntsman, said the potential candidates have found ways to remain relevant in the political process without actually gearing up for a campaign.

In Huntsman's case, that means serving as co-chairman of No Labels, a group promoting putting aside partisanship that's developing an agenda for the 2016 presidential race, as well as leading the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank.

Huntsman, who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, told reporters during a recent visit to Utah he has hired no campaign staff and is not raising money, "a clear signal we're not looking at 2016 at all politically."

Romney, Jowers said, "has become the Republican Party's statesman," speaking out against President Barack Obama's policies and campaigning for GOP candidates around the country in this year's midterm elections.

But Jowers and other Romney insiders have said the two-time presidential candidate has no interest in jumping into the primary election battles that are expected to start in January 2016 in Iowa.

"I don't believe he would ever go through another traditional grueling primary process," Jowers said. "The possibility exists the party will nevertheless come back and draft him to run against Hillary Clinton."

Huntsman could be in a similar situation, pushed to run if the GOP field appears too extreme to beat Clinton, a former first lady and secretary of state seen as the likely Democratic nominee.

For Huntsman, that could be as an independent candidate, an idea he reportedly toyed with during his short-lived 2012 campaign. Buzzfeed, citing unnamed sources, said Huntsman was once again discussing an independent run with supporters.

Huntsman told reporters in Utah he wants a strong, two-party system but sees real problems with the GOP's lack of appeal to a number of key constituencies, including women, minority and young voters.

"This is probably the most significant challenge the Republican Party has ahead of it and I'd love to see it succeed," he said, warning that without reaching out to those voters, the GOP will lose the White House in 2016 and could be in real trouble.

"You've got to have models of Republicans governing in a way that inspires and proves the point that Republicans can succeed," Huntsman said. "If you run out of those examples or models, then people just forget."

A more plausible scenario for Huntsman may be waiting until 2020 to run again as a GOP candidate, especially if a Democrat does win the White House in two years and Republicans are looking for a moderate challenger.

Huntsman supporter Lew Cramer, chief executive officer of Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate, said the twice-elected governor and former U.S. ambassador to China under Obama isn't in any hurry.

"I know him well enough to know he'll keep his powder dry until it's the right time," Cramer said, noting Huntsman is 54, still young for presidential politics. "This is the time to stay above the fray."

University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala doesn't see much chance of either Huntsman or Romney being on a presidential ballot. Romney won the 2012 New Hampshire primary, but Huntsman finished a disappointing third.

"The difference between Romney and Huntsman is there are people in the Republican Party right now who are saying we need someone like Mitt Romney. I don't know anyone who's saying we need someone like Jon Huntsman," Scala said.

For now, he said, Huntsman's "clearly using whatever notoriety he's got left as a presidential candidate in 2012," but that's not going to last. "He's going to gather dust if he sits on the sidelines too long," Scala said.

Romney may have had more success than Huntsman in presidential politics, but if he runs again, Scala predicted he'll face the same criticisms that dragged out the 2012 Republican primary process.

"If he does get back in, I would be comfortable wagering everyone would soon be pointing out his warts," Scala said. He also said Romney can't just wait to be called as a candidate if he's serious about winning.

"It's been a long time since someone was waiting in the wings just got plucked out. We're a long ways from the time there were draft movements," Scala said. "If you want to be president, you really have to run. You can't just wait."

Dave Woodard, a political science professor and pollster at Clemson University in South Carolina, also downplayed another run for president by either Huntsman or Romney.

Woodard suggested an independent run by Huntsman could be seen as an attempt to help Democrats because he would draw moderate and libertarian votes away from the GOP candidate.

"The question becomes, because obviously, no third-party candidate is going to the presidency, who does it help and who does it hurt," Woodard said. "I really wonder how many Republicans there are encouraging this versus Democrats."

He, too, questioned whether Romney could expect to sit out the primaries and still be seen as a contender should the GOP not be satisfied with the other candidates in the race.

"I guess that could happen," Woodard said. "He might be the person to go to. He's the dark horse. … I don't know. It's a strange business."

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