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Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has landed one of South Carolina’s top political operatives, according to an email obtained from a prominent Palmetto Republican.

Huntsman has hired veteran S.C. political operative Joel Sawyer, a move that gives his Palmetto organization a seasoned media strategist with extensive grassroots experience. Sawyer informed members of the SCGOP executive committee of his decision to join Huntsman’s campaign on Monday morning.

“Beginning today, I have signed on to lead Jon Huntsman’s efforts in South Carolina, should he decide to run for President,” Sawyer wrote in the email.

Sawyer was former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford’s press secretary from 2005-09 – a stretch that included the governor’s infamous “hike along the Appalachian Trail.” For the last two years, he’s worked for Karen Floyd at the S.C. Republican Party – first as a communications consultant and then as executive director of the party.

Sawyer earned universal praise from reporters for the discretion he showed during the Sanford scandal. He’s also received high marks from party activists for his performance at the SCGOP. Prior to taking a job in Sanford’s press office in 2003, Sawyer was a reporter at The Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

Huntsman is already being advised by veteran S.C. political consultant Richard Quinn – who ran U.S. Senator John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential primary campaigns.

In 2009, Huntsman was named U.S. Ambassador to China by President Barack Obama – a move that was expected to keep him on the sidelines in 2012. Since leaving his post in Beijing, Huntsman has been dodging favorable comments from Obama – who one of the former governor’s confidantes says is “trying to hug him to death.”

Sawyer’s letter to the GOP executive committee begins the process of introducing Huntsman to South Carolina voters.

“Jon is someone you may not know much about right now, but I suspect as you learn more about him you will also come to believe he is the right person for the nomination, and the right person to challenge Barack Obama in 2012,” Sawyer writes.

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