Former Utah Governor Announces Run For Presidency

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman throws his hat in the presidential ring Tuesday.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Robert Siegel.

The Republican presidential race has a new face. Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and more recently, President Obama's ambassador to China, officially declared his candidacy today. Huntsman is promising to be a different kind of candidate with a different kind of campaign.

But as NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports, he chose a very traditional kind of kickoff.

MARA LIASSON: No Twitter announcement or Web video for Jon Huntsman. Instead, his campaign produced a telegenic event with the Statue of Liberty as the backdrop. This was the same site that Ronald Reagan used to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 and Huntsman tried to deliver a Reagan-esque message of national greatness. At a windswept harbor-side park, he painted a picture of an America teetering on the edge of decline.

Americans are experiencing something totally alien to them, Huntsman said, a sense that no matter how hard they work, save and plan, the deck is stacked against them by forces beyond their control.

Mr. JON HUNTSMAN (Republican Presidential Candidate): For the first time in history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got. This, ladies and gentlemen, is totally unacceptable and it is totally un-American.

LIASSON: To avoid this fate, Huntsman promised unspecified broad and bold changes to the tax code, energy independence and the familiar, quote, "hard decisions" to solve the national debt. He also promised something different in tone and style. He said is campaign would be conducted on the high road. You don't need to run down someone's reputation, Huntsman said, in order to run for president.

Mr. HUNTSMAN: I want you to know that I respect my fellow Republican candidates and I respect the president of the United States. He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who's the better American.

LIASSON: Right now, Huntsman is virtually unknown to Republican primary voters and today he tried to introduce himself - Western governor, diplomat, businessman, father of seven. In addition, he's a Mormon, speaks fluent Mandarin, rides motorcycles in the desert to relax.

He was also, until very recently, a loyal member of the Obama administration, as the president's ambassador to China. In his speech, Huntsman never mentioned Mr. Obama by name, but he did offer this subtle jab when he called for a new kind of leadership.

Mr. HUNTSMAN: Leadership that knows we need more than hope, leadership that knows we need answers.

LIASSON: What Huntsman didn't do today is give voters a sense of what those answers are. If he is to become a top-tier candidate that can challenge Mitt Romney, the current frontrunner in the field, he'll have to fill in those blanks, says Republican strategist David Winston.

Mr. DAVID WINSTON: There's a lot he's going to have to do to develop the substance and content because it clearly was not in that speech. And I think that's the challenge. And part of what he's got to manage here is how does he make having been governor of Utah and ambassador to China for President Obama appeal to Republican primary electorate? Ultimately, he hasn't answered the substance question yet.

LIASSON: Huntsman does have positions on the issues. He believes climate change is caused by humans and he favors civil unions for gay couples. Former House Republican aide Ron Bonjean says some of those views could be problematic with Republicans who vote in primaries.

Mr. RON BONJEAN (Bonjean Company): Between this announcement and the debates, he's going to have to get around those issues and explain them or clarify them or, frankly, flip-flop on them in order for Republicans to - some Republicans to support him.

LIASSON: Huntsman has decided to skip the Iowa caucuses entirely, since they tend to reward candidates who are conservative on social issues. Huntsman is setting up his campaign headquarters in Florida, where his wife, Mary Kaye, grew up. And he'll focus on New Hampshire, hoping that there are enough non-Tea Party voters there looking for an alternative to the other candidates. Independents can vote in the Republican primary in New Hampshire and many of them just might next year, since there's no contest on the Democratic side.

Huntsman's candidacy has a long way to go, but with the Republican field still unsettled, he just may have time to get there.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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