It’s not exactly a secret that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, up until recently a member of the Obama administration, is struggling to get ahead in the Republican presidential field. A moderate by contemporary GOP standards, Huntsman simply appears to be out of step with his radicalized party.

But exactly how uncomfortable is he?

Asked in September, whether he’d consider running as an independent if his Republican bid came up short, Huntsman seemed to rule out the possibility. Asked again yesterday, Huntsman offered a different line.

Republican Jon Huntsman today refused to rule out running as an independent candidate for president should he fail in his quest for his party’s 2012 nomination.

Asked, “Is there any situation in which you would run for president as an independent?” Huntsman told The Boston Globe, “I don’t think so.”

Told that anything but a flat denial could perpetuate speculation about the possibility, Huntsman replied: “I’m a lifelong Republican. I’m running as a Republican, and I fully anticipate that that’s where we’re going to be.”

It doesn’t take much effort to notice the wiggle room. Huntsman doesn’t “think” he’d run as an independent, and he “anticipates” staying with the Republican Party.

The former governor obviously doesn’t seem willing to rule this out, even when given multiple opportunities to do so. I suspect if a reporter were to ask Romney, Perry, and Gingrich whether they’d be open to a third-party presidential run against the GOP nominee, they’d all say, “Of course not.” Huntsman is taking a very different line.

I rather doubt Huntsman would seriously pursue this — a third party candidate hasn’t seriously competed for the presidency in 150 years — but he has a considerable personal fortune and he doesn’t seem to think highly of Mitt Romney.

After Huntsman comes up short in New Hampshire in January, this is something to keep an eye on.

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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.