Ex-ambassador and Utah hopeful Huntsman says he has COVID-19

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In this Monday, June 1, 2020, photo, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., speaks during the Utah Gubernatorial Republican Primary Debate in Salt Lake City. Huntsman Jr. has one of the most recognizable names in the state as a former popular governor and son of a billionaire philanthropist. He stepped down as U.S. ambassador to Russia under Donald Trump to return to Utah and make a run and reclaiming his seat. (Ivy Ceballo/Deseret News, via AP, Pool)

SALT LAKE CITY – Former ambassador and current Republican candidate for Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. said Wednesday he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Huntsman said he has “classic symptoms” of the illness caused by the coronavirus, and will isolate himself while his campaign pushes through with less than three weeks before Election Day. Five staffers also have been infected.

“Like so many others, my goal is to keep my family safe,” he said in a tweet. “Though isolated temporarily, we’ve never been more energized in this important race for governor. The work goes on!”

Huntsman previously served as Utah governor until 2009, when he left to be the U.S. ambassador to China under then-President Barack Obama. Following a brief presidential run during the 2012 cycle, he served as ambassador to Russia under President Donald Trump before resigning and mounting his campaign for governor.

Huntsman, 60, is one of four Republicans on the June 30 primary ballot. He is considered a front-runner, but is running neck-in-neck with a lieutenant governor with a higher profile during the pandemic response and a candidate gaining on the right with calls to reopen the economy more quickly.

Meanwhile, another staffer on a competing campaign also caught the virus and is in self-quarantine along with two others that person came into contact with.

Primary ballots began going out this week in the election being conducted entirely by mail. It's the first wide-open governor's race in Utah in more than a decade. Polls indicate many voters remain undecided and it's hard to say how the virus news could affect the outcome, said Brigham Young University political-science professor Chris Karpowitz.

“It significantly complicates efforts by the campaign to make that last push toward Election Day,” he said. Still, many voters will be likely be empathetic as the pandemic continues, he said.