Image: Huntsman
Brian Snyder  /  REUTERS
Jon Huntsman is interviewed during a stop at a home in Keene, New Hampshire May 20, 2011.
NBC News and news services
updated 6/14/2011 5:27:05 PM ET 2011-06-14T21:27:05

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is joining the fast-growing pack of Republicans battling to take on President Barack Obama.

Huntsman, who was Obama's ambassador to China until a month ago, will make his formal announcement next Tuesday — with the Statue of Liberty as the backdrop, his campaign team said. Though he served in Washington for three Republican presidents, he faces a challenge in making himself known nationally and winning over GOP primary voters.

Still, the fact that he's entering the race shows the turmoil that still fills the Republican field as time ticks down to the first 2012 primaries and caucuses.

Video: Noonan: Hunstman brings China expertise to table (on this page)

Other GOP candidates were hard at it on Tuesday after their first big debate the night before in New Hampshire, keeping up their verbal pounding of Obama.

Front-runner Mitt Romney campaigned at a family-owned hardware story in Derry and declared, "You can't blame George Bush anymore. President Obama is going to have to take responsibility for the fact that we're still in a very troubled economy."

His competitors had hoped the debate would deflate the air of inevitability the former Massachusetts governor has projected in his second White House run. But that didn't seem to happen.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann announced her candidacy at the debate and briefly claimed the spotlight, but then she had to return to her job in Washington.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had to be goaded to repeat his criticism of Romney's health care plan as "Obamneycare," a term he coined conflating Obama and Romney's health care records.

"It's a term I used on a Sunday morning show to make the point that President Obama admitted that he used the Massachusetts health care plan as the blueprint for Obamacare," Pawlenty told CBS News. "And then when pressed by the moderator, I did use that term again."

And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, stopping by a breakfast for small businesses, tried to keep the focus on Obama and his stewardship of the economy — not his own faltering campaign or his fellow Republicans.

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"I think the American people are hungry for somebody to explain how to end the Obama depression," said Gingrich, whose top aides resigned en masse last week in a disagreement with the former Georgia lawmaker.

Huntsman, meanwhile is just getting under way.

Video: Brokaw: Both parties need to court independents in '12 (on this page)
"I intend to announce my candidacy for the presidency of the United States of America a week from today," he said during a discussion about China policy in New York with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

His campaign will begin in earnest at the northern New Jersey park where President Ronald Reagan began his 1980 White House run, according to advisers who noted that he had worked as a staff assistant in the Reagan White House. From the Statue of Liberty, Huntsman plans to travel to New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, and to Florida, a perennial battleground and host of the 2012 GOP nominating convention. He also plans stops in his home state of Utah and in the early caucus state of Nevada.

Though he's a two-term governor from a conservative state, Huntsman's moderate stances on some issues and service as Obama's ambassador to China could hurt him with the Republican Party's right-leaning base. He has honed a message of service to his country and has called for civil political discourse.

In a field lacking deep foreign policy credentials, Huntsman is pitching himself as a politician with international experience who would help the United States' economy rebound. It's an attempt to appeal to segments of the GOP that care both about foreign policy and domestic prosperity.

The telegenic former governor has a ready fundraising apparatus. He's personally wealthy and could dip into that fortune for a run. He also has strong ties to the Mormon community, which has shown a willingness to support politicians who are of the faith.

Still, Huntsman's challenges are great.

For one, he's simply not well-known. He ranks in the single digits in early national polls as well as in surveys in early nominating states. But many GOP primary voters are undecided, and many conservatives are looking for an alternative to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and fellow Mormon who is making his second bid for the GOP nomination.

While Huntsman's record on abortion and gun rights is solidly conservative, his positions on climate change and civil unions for same-sex couples are not. As governor, he backed bills providing civil rights protections to gays and lesbians, and he has said humans have had a role in climate change.

And in 2008 Romney couldn't persuade evangelical voters who are influential in primaries in Iowa and South Carolina to overlook their skepticism about a Mormon candidate.

Huntsman already has said he would bypass Iowa, which holds the lead-off caucuses in February 2012. Instead, his campaign would begin in New Hampshire, where independent voters can cast ballots in either party's primary and are the state's largest political bloc.

From here, Huntsman would compete in South Carolina and Florida in hopes of building momentum.

Video: Is Huntsman running away from his roots? (on this page)

He long had been considered a potential challenger to Obama in 2012, but then the president offered Huntsman, a speaker of Mandarin, the China job in 2009. At the time, the White House was credited by some with vanquishing a GOP rival.

But a year later, Huntsman bought a $3.6 million Washington mansion that most recently housed contestants on Bravo's "Top Chef" reality show, and he hinted at national aspirations in interviews. By winter, Huntsman had submitted his resignation, which took effect this spring.

He's also proved a skilled, folksy-when-needed politician. During one stop at a New Hampshire gun store, he seemed to take a swipe at Romney. Asked what he hunted, he said, "Varmint."

During the 2008 campaign, Romney said he was a lifelong hunter, but aides said he had been hunting on only two occasions. Romney later said he had hunted more than twice but only for "small varmints" and that he did not own a gun or have a hunting license.

On Tuesday, Romney was smiling. He held an impromptu and atypical news conference outside a farm store and brought reporters along as he went table-to-table in a diner.

"Five years ago it was, 'Who the heck or you?'" Romney said. "Now it's, like: 'Oh yeah, I know who you are.' Either, 'I know who you are, please leave my table' or, 'I know who you are, I'm going to vote for you.' I like the latter a lot better."

Projecting confidence, he promised one storeowner he would be back in four years: "Only next time, it will be a larger group. I will probably have Secret Service."

Gingrich is trying to reboot a political operation that now has shed top operatives who said they had seen enough to know his strategy of online efforts and sporadic events was not going to win him the nomination.

He seemed to shift that strategy slightly. Two weeks ago, Gingrich attended what his campaign billed as a town hall-style meeting that lasted just 15 minutes and skipped past the traditional back-and-forth exchanges with voters. On Tuesday, he offered brief remarks but spent more than 30 minutes in the hallmark question-and-answer time.

In both cases, Gingrich refused to talk with reporters. "Cover the speech. Cover the speech," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

  • A look at the Republican candidates hoping to challenge Barack Obama in the general election.

  • Rick Perry, announced Aug. 13

    Image: Perry
    Sean Gardner  /  REUTERS
    Texas Gov. Rick Perry

    Mere hours before a major GOP debate in Iowa (and a couple of days before the high-interest Ames straw poll), the Perry camp announced that the Texas governor was all-in for 2012.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas governor.

    While some on ground in the early-caucus state criticized the distraction, strategists applauded the move and said Perry was giving Romney a run for his money.

    Slideshow: A look at Gov. Rick Perry's political career

    He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

  • Jon Huntsman, announced June 21

    Image: Jon Hunt
    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

    Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, made his bid official on June 21 at at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former governor of Utah.

    He vowed to provide "leadership that knows we need more than hope" and "leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems."

    The early days of his campaign were clouded with reports of internal discord among senior staffers.

    Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr.

    Huntsman, who is Mormon, worked as a missionary in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin. But his moderate credentials — backing civil unions for gays and the cap-and-trade energy legislation — could hurt him in a GOP primary. So could serving under Obama.

  • Michele Bachmann, announced on June 13

    Image: Michele Bachmann
    Larry Downing  /  REUTERS
    Rep. Michele Bachmann

    Born and raised in Iowa, this Tea Party favorite and Minnesota congresswoman announced during a June 13 GOP debate that she's officially in the running for the Republican nomination.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Minn. congresswoman.

    Bachmann tells The Associated Press she decided to jump into the 2012 race at this time because she believed it was "the right thing to do."

    She's been criticized for making some high-profile gaffes — among them, claiming taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for President Barack Obama's trip to India and identifying New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots.

    Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann

    But Bachmann's proved a viable fundraiser, collecting more than $2 million in political contributions in the first 90 days of 2011 — slightly exceeding the $1.8 million Mitt Romney brought in via his PAC in the first quarter.

  • Rick Santorum, announced on June 6

    Image: Rick Santorum
    Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
    Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum

    A staunch cultural conservative vehemently against abortion and gay marriage, the former Pennsylvania senator hopes to energize Republicans with a keen focus on social issues.

    He announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on FOX News, where he makes regular appearances. He make his run official on June 6 in Somerset, Pa., asking supporters to "Join the fight!"

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Pennsylvania senator.

    No stranger to controversy, Santorum was condemned by a wide range of groups in 2003 for equating homosexuality with incest, pedophilia and bestiality. More recently, Santorum faced criticism when he called Obama’s support for abortion rights “almost remarkable for a black man.”

    Slideshow: Rick Santorum's political life

    Since his defeat by Democrat Robert Casey in his 2006 re-election contest — by a whopping 18 percentage points — Santorum has worked as an attorney and as a think-tank contributor.

    A February straw poll at CPAC had him in twelfth place amongst Republicans with 2 percent of the vote.

  • Mitt Romney, announced on June 2

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Paul Sancya  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential candidate Mitt Romney

    The former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate has spent the last three years laying the foundations for another run at the White House — building a vigorous political action committee, making regular media appearances, and penning a policy-heavy book.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Mass. governor.

    In April, he announced, via YouTube and Twitter, that he'd formed an exploratory commitee. Romney made his run official in Stratham, N.H., on June 2.

    The former CEO of consulting firm Bain & Company and the president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney frequently highlights his business background as one of his main qualifications to serve as president.

    Slideshow: Mitt Romney's life in politics

    To capture the nomination, Romney will have to defend the health care overhaul he enacted during his governorship — legislation that bears similarities to the Obama-backed bill despised by many conservatives. He'll also have to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper (like supporting abortion rights in his 1994 and 2002 bids for office, but opposing them in his '08 run).

    In the first quarter of 2011, he netted some $1.8 million through his PAC "Free and Strong America."

  • Herman Cain, announced on May 21

    Image: Herman Cain
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images file
    Talk show host Herman Cain

    Cain, an Atlanta radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has support from some Tea Party factions.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Atlanta radio host.

    An African-American who describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate,” he was the first Republican to form a formal presidential exploratory committee. He officially entered the race in May, telling supporters, "When we wake up and they declare the presidential results, and Herman Cain is in the White House, we'll all be able to say, free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, this nation is free at last, again!"

    Prior to the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, Cain rehashed the birther theory, telling a Florida blogger, “I respect people that believe he should prove his citizenship ... He should prove he was born in the United States of America.”

  • Ron Paul, announced on May 13

    Image: Ron Paul
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Rep. Ron Paul

    In 2008, Texas congressman Ron Paul’s libertarian rallying cry — and his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — did not fall on deaf ears. An idiosyncratic foe of the Federal Reserve and a passionate advocate for limited government, Paul mounted a presidential run that was characterized by bursts of jaw-dropping online fundraising.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas congressman.

    Slideshow: Ron Paul

    He officially launched his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, saying, ""The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building ... Our time has come."

    In the first quarter of 2011, raked in some $3 million through his various political organizations.

  • Newt Gingrich, announced on May 11

    Image: Newt Gingrich
    John M. Heller  /  Getty Images file
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich remains a robust presence on the GOP stage as a prolific writer and political thinker. In recent years, Barack Obama has provided a new target for the blistering critiques Gingrich famously leveled at President Bill Clinton.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former speaker of the House.

    In early May, he made his 2012 run official. "I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.

Video: Noonan: Hunstman brings China expertise to table

  1. Closed captioning of: Noonan: Hunstman brings China expertise to table

    >> he's in control, isn't he?

    >> yeah.

    >> i say that in that he seems very sure of himself. he can speak in complete sentences. one sentence relates to the previous sentence.

    >> there is that.

    >> he reeled together a very effective paragraph. these days in american politics , that ain't nothing.

    >> there's more that meets the eye there. i think he's going to burst on to the national scene. it's a matter of timing.

    >> yeah, you know, huntsman also made a bit of history in that clip by talking about foreign policy . no one has been doing this in this cycle among the republicans. speaking in a way that suggests oh, i may be breaking with the past.

    >> yeah.

    >> with regard to the wars we have going. that was really interesting.

    >> ezra , we have, in the media, tend to focus on the big, flashy stories, the candidates that grab attention whether the michele bachmann 's or sarah palin 's or donald trumps and the list goes on. yet you get a sense, "back of mormon" last night, the two mormons that keep their head down are benefiting from that in the end. this circus side show that's been going on with the republican party for so long.

    >> i think huntsman is going to have trouble breaking through that. hundred thing on huntsman, we have a tendency to focus on the last couple of years and couple of elections when we do this. in 2008 , you would think the next presidency would be about iraq. it was about a financial crisis . would have been nothing like we thought. there's something interesting about a candidate taking another path. oftentimes, it's closer to what they focus on than what they were concerned about in the campaign.

    >> huntsman is a smart guy . on that same show, john trashed huntsman saying it's not the fact he served in the obama administration, it's the way he fawned over him, supporting different policies, not just the ones with china. there are people in the party that are going to try to take him down based on his relationship with obama .

    >> they may do that or mitt romney had a health care plan strikingly similar to obamas. we have people that obsess over every policy detail. it all gets washed aside. it's a gut feeling. my dad, four years ago, when everybody said john mccain was done, we said this on the show. every time i would leave to come back to new york, he said you watch that john mccain ? he was 2% in the poll. my dad was a republican voter. a hard working guy, didn't watch news shows day in and day out. he knew mccain and liked mccain . if people like huntsman, they are not going to focus on that and if they like romney , they are not going to focus on health care in massachusetts .

    >> he will probably announce fairly soon. i think his headline will be china. his subhead will be speaks mandarin. so many people are speaking of china. he brings expertise on it. the charge it was too cozy with the administration, he was a diplomat. he was courteous.

    >> i think it's what makes obama vulnerable. i think this candidate has the tools in his tool chest to take on president obama unlike any other in the republican field.

    >> after two and a half years, after two and a half years, this seems counter intuitive, republicans behaving badly , calling the president a marxist, and a fascist. hurting the party and the brand in these swing states . what stronger position than to say, i like the guy. i worked with the guy in china.

    >> yeah.

    >> i think he's dead wrong on foreign policy , on health care . take it out of the personal and go to the american people and say, this isn't a personal thing. we need to go in a new direction.

    >> what you are talking is centric talk.

    >> one of the things is you will be away for two years. is he in touch with how deeply primal the republican base looks like it is?

    >> how deeply primal the republican base is. it's primal. once you start chugging and churning and get to florida and you go to the midwest, it gets very sen tryst, very fast. john mccain , you know, with every talk show host in america trashing john mccain day in and day out, trying to kill him because if he lost on january 29th in florida , mccain would be out and romney , the nominee. you had hannity, beck, laura ingram , fox, everybody dedicated that john mccain must die. he waltzed through florida and the midwest and to victory. it is primal early, but it gets sen tryst down the road. if you don't believe that, ask how john mccain and gerald ford and bob dole win nominations.

    >> let's listen to huntsman on the economy. he revealed he is a week and a half away from making an announcement about his decision to run. he's wasting no time to hit the president on his economic policies .

    >> on the economic side, there are no signs of success. very little. in politics you have two to two and a half years to get something done and move out in a positive direction. here we are.

    >> you think it's failed on the economic side?

    >> failed on the economic front.

    >> let's go from the republican side to the democratic side. "the new york times" front page talking about how the president is now seeking money from wall street , trying to be nice. what's going on there?

    >> he needs money. he got money from hedge funds and investment bankers . this is a group of very wealthy people. the bush administration was temperamentally different from them. then obviously, there's financial regulation and they didn't like him for awhile. when they began watching the republican field, they get a tingle in their spine. maybe they aren't the folks that hitch the wagon. the debt ceiling doesn't make us feel comfortable. it puts him in a tough bind. he's going to have to run against the banks. a lot of people think he did t.a.r.p. people blame obama . on the other hand, he has to get money from somewhere. wall street is one of the largest big pots of money folks on the left can appeal to.

    >> he cleaned up on wall street . so much. more money from wall street than ever before. there's always misconception, misperception, i think, nationally that wall street loves republicans. they don't.

    >> it's not true in my lifetime. there's a cultural disconnection. it's been southern, tx an.

    >> it's been main street .

    >> it has been but running from georgia to houston, texas.

    >> true. wall street is divided from this republican party . it's fascinating, where are they going to go this year?

    >> i think obama is in that delicate position in 2011 of going to the too big to fail guys. the guys in the hbo movie the other night and by and large are still there who are not the most admired human beings in america. wall street bankers. the heads of wall street companies. he's got to go where the money is and he's got to go make his appeal. the great question is, whether or not they are going to stiff him. how they feel about him now.

    >> what did he do that was so insulting besides call them a few names. tell me what financial reform did to turn it around.

    >> made them bigger. they hate their new high profits. it's a case that wall street is incredibly thin skinned. if you don't bow down before them and say it was really, really great all these things you did before and after wrecking the global and financial economy, they get very, very upset. wall street swung to the republicans in 2010 . boehner and canter are working very, very hard to keep it there. it created the unemployment of both parties vying for their support.

    >> i don't understand what's been done to change the situation? why wall street has been so hurt?

    >> because when you make the banks bigger after too big to fail, they are having to write out big bonuses.

    >> you're right.

    >> seriously, you get to the end of the year and write billions of bonuses.

    >> that's right.

    >> willie geist , let's go to, there's an advertisement that was brought to our attention last night. you and ezra both said off air that it's compelling.

    >> ezra thought it was compel compelling. an ad hitting president obama going above the rest of the republican field to hit president obama on the economy. watch this.

    >> there are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery .

    >> i'm an american, not a bump in the road.

    >> i'm an american, not a bump in the road.

    >> i'm an american, not a bump in the road.

    >>> ezra , you said it. if mitt romney can stay on that message, president obama is going to have a fight on his hands there.

    >> it looks like the morning of waking the dead . they are running the unemployment rate . romney gets that. it's powerful. romney is not in the mix. romney is attacking barack obama . what romney gets is if he can be the most effective attack dog , a lot will be forgiven.

    >> peggy, november 6, 2012 talks about the election, not the primary.

    >> romney is fighting for the nomination. you would think he would attack the guys to the right and left. he's not. he's saying this is between me and obama . this is how i'll do it. it fits in with what ezra says. it could be powerful. we'll see.

    >>> coming up. tom brokaw will be here. senator john barrasso joins us next. richard wolffe

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