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Santorum, Huntsman take next steps toward 2012 run

/ Source: The Associated Press

Republican presidential contenders Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman on Tuesday took steps toward formally joining a still-forming GOP field.

Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, established a presidential exploratory committee and announced he would participate in Thursday's debate in South Carolina. Huntsman, a former governor of Utah who last week stepped down as the U.S. ambassador to China, filed paperwork that lets him start building a national profile as he weighs a presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, two of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's advisers left her side. Foreign policy hands Randy Scheunemann and Michael Goldfarb — who both worked with Palin when she was Sen. John McCain's vice presidential pick — stepped aside over the weekend. Peter Schweizer, a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, is set to advise Palin on foreign policy.

The early moves from potential candidates come as the Republican field is coming together.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is preparing to formally join the race in the coming weeks, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is planning an announcement tour and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has scheduled fundraisers in the coming weeks.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is more seriously considering a bid as polls show him competitive despite laying none of the traditional groundwork for a campaign. And Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is weighing a bid now that his Legislature has completed its session.

Latest signs campaign is about to begin
Tuesday's steps from Santorum and Huntsman were the latest clear signs the campaign is about to begin.

Santorum, who previously had filed preliminary paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission, told supporters he would form a presidential exploratory committee. It also clears a threshold for him to participate in Thursday's Fox News Channel debate in Greenville, S.C.

Santorum, who lost a bruising re-election bid in 2006, has been busy visiting the traditional early nominating states to lay the groundwork for a presidential bid.

Huntsman, seen as a potential presidential candidate, established a federal political action committee that lets him raise money, hire staff and travel around the country to build a national profile — but not necessarily seek the White House.

Huntsman left his post in the Obama administration last week and returned home amid speculation he would run for the White House. He has scheduled a weekend visit to South Carolina, which has an early spot on the presidential nominating calendar.