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It’s been 170 years since the last and only Penn student became President of the United States.

President William Henry Harrison — yes, the one who died of pneumonia thirty days into office — studied at the School of Medicine for four months in 1791.

As some of you American history buffs might know, his death led to four years of bitter infighting between President John Tyler and party leaders in Congress. Not the type of legacy Penn students today might hope to leave behind.

Today, another recognizable political figure and former Penn student appears to be considering a presidential run — Jon Huntsman Jr., the current U.S. Ambassador to China, former Utah governor and a 1987 College alumnus.

The surname should sound familiar. Huntsman Hall is named after his father, businessman and philanthropist Jon M. Huntsman.

By delivering his letter of resignation to President Barack Obama last month, Huntsman sparked speculation that he will run for president in 2012 — despite serving in Obama’s administration.

And despite my own personal policy disagreements with the ambassador, I have a very strong opinion on his immediate political future.

I want Huntsman to run for president.

Any moderate- to liberal-minded Penn students should examine Huntsman’s positions before dismissing him as just another Republican. He has supported reducing greenhouse gas emissions, providing a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants and creating civil unions for gay and lesbian couples — all while serving as the governor of one of the most conservative states. He also supported the stimulus package, even suggesting that it may not have been large enough.

He’s not exactly like all the other potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates that have been all too willing to criticize Obama.

But can Huntsman actually win? If the straw poll from the Conservative Political Action Conference is any indication, probably not. Huntsman won just 1 percent of the 3,742 ballots cast — far shy of Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Texas) 30 percent.

The poll is hardly scientific, considering Paul won the last CPAC straw poll, but it does speak to potential presidential hopeful’s ability to stay relevant in a broad field of candidates.

Regardless of his chances, Huntsman running for president serves an extremely important purpose — giving Republicans a choice.

In the dozen presidential debates coming in the next year, Huntsman can act as a voice of moderation against the most extreme views of his own party — like Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) anti-census crusade or former Gov. Sarah Palin’s apparent opposition to government-supported healthy eating in schools.

If Huntsman does manage to win the primary, he may pose a genuine threat to Obama. Many Democrats don’t want to see that happen.

“I’d prefer to see someone who is not particularly electable and much more staunchly conservative than Huntsman,” Penn Democrats Vice President and College sophomore Jake Shuster said. “Most Democrats would … prefer a Tea Party candidate because it will make Obama’s re-election easier.”

But I’m comfortable assuming that added risk. Voters on both sides of the aisle should have the opportunity to vote for candidates who represent their ideological views, including in primaries.

And for those Huntsman supporters concerned that a loss in the 2012 campaign will prevent him from ever becoming president — just look at history. Three of the last five Republican presidents — Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — all lost prior presidential elections before becoming president.

If Huntsman wins the nomination, Democrats can still win the general election. But even if he becomes president, Democrats probably won’t disagree with him on every major policy issue.

And if he fails to win the nomination, his chances to become president someday are anything but history.

Evan Medina is a College senior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. His e-mail address is Peace Not Politics appears every other Tuesday.

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