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Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign team-in-waiting is dismissing suggestions that they are working at the Utah Republican’s behest as he continues to serve under President Barack Obama as his ambassador to China.

Several news reports have identified a new political action committee, Horizon, as Huntsman’s de facto White House campaign operation. GOP operatives working for other likely Republican presidential candidates have noted to reporters the possible legal implications, if nothing else, of Obama’s own key ambassador raising money and campaigning against him before his previously announced resignation takes effect on April 30.

But on Friday, two well-known Huntsman supporters and Republican political operatives attempted to clarify the work of Horizon PAC as well as the roles that they hope to play in a Huntsman presidential campaign, should he formally announce a 2012 White House bid after he returns to the U.S. from China.

Consultant John Weaver described the interpretation that Horizon PAC is Huntsman’s campaign team as a “coincidence and a misunderstanding.” Despite the fact that some Huntsman supporters are involved with the PAC, its goal is to raise money for GOP candidates running in 2012 and to support the party, not Huntsman.

Weaver said Huntsman’s supporters are working on a purely voluntary basis, without any direction or encouragement from the ambassador, with the goal of encouraging people within their “areas of influence” to support him should he launch a formal presidential bid later this year.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do,” Weaver said. “I hope he runs for president.”

The PAC’s unveiling raised eyebrows in part because of the graphics on the website — a large, capital letter “H” is prominently featured — and because the organization describes itself as looking for a new generation of conservative leaders. Under a heading on the website titled “Maybe Someday,” the PAC’s organizers wrote: “These leaders exist. We will search the country. We will find them. Stand behind them.”

Many political observers, noting Huntsman supporters are also behind the PAC, saw that as a clear signal that the ambassador is the new generation of leader they are looking for.

Lobbyist Allen Shofe, who is preparing to run Huntsman’s Member-relations effort, discussed Horizon PAC and his role in Huntsman’s inner circle in similar terms. Shofe said it is inaccurate to refer to Horizon as “Huntsman’s PAC,” although he conceded that “it’s fair to say that supporters of the PAC are hopeful that Ambassador Huntsman will decide to run for president when he returns from China.” 

Shofe confirmed he has “volunteered” to woo Capitol Hill support for Huntsman should he decide to run, but he made it clear that he is not receiving any payment from Horizon PAC for that role. Shofe also attempted to put to bed the notion that money raised by Horizon will be used by any campaign that Huntsman might launch.

“The PAC is fundraising and all funds will go to Horizon PAC for the efforts outlined above. Any Huntsman campaign fundraising would have to happen after he returns and if he decides to run, which I hope he does,” Shofe said.

Meanwhile, one American who is based in Beijing and active in the business community there said the expectation among U.S. expatriates who have dealt with Huntsman is that he will in fact run.

“He’s running for president,” the source told Roll Call. “He’s had a team waiting in the wings since he put ambitions on hold to be ambassador. They are now re-engaged and laying groundwork. After his initial round of media over the Christmas period, Huntsman is now refusing to speak about anything post-April 30.”

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