His campaign put all its emphasis on the New Hampshire primary, hoping that face-to-face politicking in the first-in-the-nation primary would pay off with a strong second-place finish or a surprise victory in Romney's back yard. While other GOP candidates spent December in Iowa, the Huntsman campaign ignored its leadoff caucuses, where social conservatives were all but certain to give the Mormon from Utah short shrift.
Central to Huntsman's New Hampshire strategy was its open Republican primary, which allowed independents to vote along with declared party members. He gambled that he could attract moderate voters, Republicans and independents alike, by presenting himself as successful conservative leader who wasn't interested in engaging in a culture war.
He called his third-place showing a "ticket to ride" to South Carolina, but his distant finish behind Romney and runner-up Ron Paul was widely regarded as lackluster.
Huntsman, 51, was born in Redwood City, Calif., and raised in Utah. His father, an industrialist and at one time a Nixon administration official, founded Huntsman Chemical Corp. in 1982. Now the Huntsman Corp., it reported revenues of more than $9 billion in 2010.
The younger Huntsman drifted a bit as a young man. He attended high school in Salt Lake City but dropped out to play keyboards in a band. He later attended the University of Utah, then dropped out to serve two years as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, where he learned to speak Mandarin.
He returned to the University of Utah in 1981 and later worked as an intern for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and as a staff assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He left college to join the Huntsman Corp. in 1983, the same year he married Mary Kaye Cooper. He studied international politics at the University of Pennsylvania, earning a bachelor's degree in 1987.
While he served in the administrations of both George H.W. Bush — he was ambassador to Singapore in 1992 — and George W. Bush, Huntsman first won elective office in 2004 as Utah's governor. He was re-elected by a 3-1 margin in 2008, then resigned the following year to be America's top diplomat in China.
Huntsman and his wife have seven children, including one adopted from India and one adopted from China.