ABC's Jake Tapper:
White House officials tell ABC News that the Obama administration expects the US Ambassador to China, former GOP Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, to step down from his post in the coming months to explore a possible 2012 run for president.
Huntsman did not respond to a request for comment.
Huntsman is a smart guy, and he certainly knows how steep a climb he'd have in a 2012 run.
Utah's presidential primary won't have any bearing on the GOP nominating contest, but preference there is a good measure of whether Huntsman can go toe-to-toe with Mitt Romney, considering their similar ideology and religion.
In the most recent polling of a Romney vs. Huntsman matchup in Utah, Romney won by 23%, and that, despite the fact Huntsman held an 84% approval rating at the time.
My guess is that any Huntsman decision to run for president would be to raise his national profile in advance of a 2016 bid, when the political environment in the Republican party might be more welcoming to a moderate.
Regardless, this is terrific news for GOP12 in the wake of Mike Pence's loss. Huntsman buzz might not be as loud as Pence chatter, but at least it's another guy to cover.
UPDATE: Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns:
While Huntsman has no direct involvement in it, a group of operatives that could eventually comprise his strategy team has set up an entity called “Horizon PAC” to serve as a placeholder for his political apparatus.
The PAC will be run by Susie Wiles, a Florida-based Republican strategist who recently managed the campaign of newly-inaugurated Gov. Rick Scott.