WHITE HOUSE MASTERS UNWELCOME PRAISE…. Last week, President Obama praised Mitt Romney, emphasizing areas of agreement on health care between the White House and the former Massachusetts governor. It seemed pretty likely that the kind words were intended to undermine Romney’s presidential efforts, at least a little.

Yesterday, it was Jon Huntsman’s turn.

Huntsman, of course, is the departing U.S. Ambassador to China, and the former governor of Utah, who appears to be gearing up for a presidential campaign, running as a Republican. White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley was asked about this on “Meet the Press” yesterday, and said Huntsman has done “an excellent job on behalf of the Obama administration.” Daley added:

“[Huntsman’s] support of the Obama administration, his support of the president, the things he did on behalf of this administration and the closeness in which he worked with the president is most appreciated. And I’m sure he’ll talk about that in the primaries.”

This was anything but subtle. Note that Daley used the words “Obama administration” twice — he could have just as easily said “us” or “the administration” — reinforcing the connection between “Huntsman” and “Obama.” Indeed, practically all of the phrases seemed crafted with a larger strategy in mind: “support of the president,” “closeness” with the president, etc.

It’s easy to imagine Daley’s quote being inserted directly into a primary campaign ad. My strong hunch is, that wasn’t an accident.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.