Jon Huntsman Positions Himself As 2012's 'Cool' Candidate, Defends Obama Administration Role

ABC News' Amy Walter ( @amyewalter) reports:

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- In a graduation speech Saturday morning at the University of South Carolina, former U.S. Ambassador to China and potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman tried his best to look like a cool, young dad instead of a traditional politician. He kicked off his remarks to the 1,150 graduates by thanking the university's president, Dr. Harris Pastides, for an introduction that "made me sound pretty cool." Huntsman then went on to recount his time as a young man playing in the rock band "Wizard" noting that he once had Rod Stewart-like hair and "I wouldn't wear anything but super skinny jeans." He ended his remarks with a reference to Ben Folds, a musician who was popular when most of the graduates were in diapers. He ended his speech by telling the soon to be grads "never forget to rock and roll."

But the former ambassador and Utah governor also addressed more weighty matters, including the issue that both Republicans and Democrats appear intent on using against him if he launches a White House bid -- his service in the administration of a president he may now be seeking to run against.

"Work to keep America great. Serve her if asked. I was, by a president of a different political party," Huntsman said. "But in the end, while we might not all be of one party, we are all part of one nation -- a nation that needs your generational gift, energy and confidence."

Huntsman, who served as the nation's top diplomat in Beijing since Aug. 2009 before returning to the United States just one week ago, also offered his take on his time in China.

"There are many in China who think their time has come, that America's best days are over. And, there are probably some in this country who have lost confidence and think that China is the next big thing," Huntsman told the graduates. "But these people aren't seeing things from my earlier vantage point of 10,000 miles away. The way I saw it from overseas, America's passion remains as strong today as ever."

Huntsman has wasted no time jumpstarting the preparations for a potential presidential bid. In fact, several key supporters, including veterans of Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential operation, had already formed a kind of campaign-in-waiting by the time Hunstman touched down in the U.S. last week.

On Tuesday Huntsman set up a federal political action committee, "H PAC." A spokesman for the PAC, Tim Miller, said it was “an organizational step that will allow him to travel the country, discuss issues that are important to him, and support Republican candidates.”

Over the course of the past week Huntsman has been in Washington, DC and in New York City meeting with advisers, potential donors, elected officials and Republican party leaders.

Later this month, he will travel to New Hampshire to deliver another commencement speech, that one at Southern New Hampshire University. And in June, Huntmsan plans to take part in a Republican Leadership Conference event in New Orleans, a gathering that is shaping up to be a major GOP cattle call that will include several other potential presidential candidates.

"Things are moving pretty quickly," he told reporters in South Carolina on Friday after a meeting with the state's new Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. "Whatever timeline one is looking at can't be more than a couple months."

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