Video: Off and running: Huntsman enters presidential race staff and news service reports
updated 6/21/2011 4:11:01 PM ET 2011-06-21T20:11:01

Republican Jon Huntsman joined the presidential race Tuesday with the Statue of Liberty over his shoulder, asserting that he and President Barack Obama both love their country but have far different visions of its future. He pledged to halt an "un-American" fading of national power and confidence.

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Hoping to set himself apart from other candidates, he also promised to run a civil campaign for the GOP nomination at a time of heated partisan rhetoric.

The former Utah governor focused on Obama, not his Republican rivals, in his announcement address in the patriotic setting where Ronald Reagan launched his fall presidential campaign in 1980. Huntsman said, "The question each of us wants the voters to answer is, 'Who will be the better president, not who's the better American.'"

First Thoughts: Who is Jon Huntsman?

As for his pledge of civility, he said, "Our political debates today are corrosive and not reflective of the belief that Abe Lincoln espoused back in his day, that we are a great country because we are a good country."

The announcement was all formality for Huntsman, 51. His aides have been planning the bid for months, and the candidate himself has spent the weeks since he returned to the United States from China visiting early primary voting states, courting donors and building a full-fledged campaign.

He joins a GOP field that includes come candidates far better known than he as Republicans search for a strong challenger to Obama, a Democrat seeking his second term. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads most early national polls and some surveys in states that hold the first contests of the Republican nomination fight.

Image: Jon Huntsman
Stan Honda  /  AFP - Getty Images
Jon Huntsman with his family after announcing he will run for president on Tuesday, at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Huntsman's wife, Mary Kaye, and six of his seven children joined him for the announcement. The family made a dramatic entrance, walking together across a large field before taking the stage.

The multimillionaire businessman stressed his record in Utah, where he won praise from conservative groups for cutting taxes and recruiting new business to the state. He served as governor from 2005 to early 2009, when Obama offered him the China post.

In his speech, Huntsman tried to embrace Reagan's signature optimism about the U.S. even as he warned that the country could slip into decline.

Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr. (on this page)

"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," he said. "This, ladies and gentlemen, is totally unacceptable and it is totally un-American."

He vowed to create jobs, streamline the tax code and work to keep the federal budget from being swallowed by Medicare and other entitlement programs and interest payments on the national debt.

"We must make hard decisions that are necessary to avert disaster," he said

Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China under Obama until April, said he respected the president but would steer the county in a different direction.

"He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love," Huntsman said.

He took a gentle jab at Obama's signature 2008 campaign themes of hope and change, saying the country is seeking "leadership that knows we need more than hope, leadership that knows we need answers."

Huntsman praised the U.S. military but indicated he would try to as president to draw down U.S. involvement in conflicts abroad.

"We're at war, ladies and gentlemen, and we must manage the end of these conflicts without repeating past mistakes that made our engagement longer and our sacrifices greater than they should have been." he said.

Video: Klein: Huntsman has opinions on 'almost nothing' (on this page)

Huntsman is the second Mormon in the field after Romney. Polls show many voters have reservations about electing a Mormon president, and Huntsman made no reference to his religion in his remarks.

Polls show Huntsman starting in the low single digits in a field including Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is exploring a possible bid as well.

With his service in the Obama administration and moderate positions on some social issues, Huntsman may be a hard sell among Republican voters who have grown markedly more conservative in recent years. He supported legislation allowing same-sex civil unions in Utah and signed a climate initiative with other Western governors aimed at reducing global warming.

But Huntsman is gambling that GOP voters eager to replace Obama will warm to a centrist candidate who could appeal to independents and some Democrats in the general election in November 2012.

Huntsman headed to New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, later Tuesday before returning to New York for a fundraising event. He was scheduled to head to South Carolina, another key early voting state, on Wednesday.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt took a jab at Huntsman, saying he had spoken in favor of a budget plan crafted by House Republicans that would make deep cuts in Medicare and other programs while cutting taxes on the wealthy.

"Like the other Republican candidates, instead of proposing a plan that will allow middle class families to reclaim their economic security, Governor Huntsman is proposing a return to the failed economic policies that led us into the recession," LaBolt said.

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

Photos: Jon Huntsman, Jr.

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  1. Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jon Huntsman Jr. claps as Singapore's Ambassador to the U.S., Chan Heng Chee, is recognized during a reception in the Rayburn House Office Building, Oct. 9, 2002. Huntsman started his public service career as an assistant in the Reagan administration and later served as the ambassador to Singapore under George H.W. Bush. (Scott J. Ferrell / Congressional Quarterly via Getty Im) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. In 2004, Huntsman ran for governor of Utah against Scott Matheson, Jr., seen here before their debate, Sept. 17, 2004, in Salt Lake City. (Douglas C. Pizac / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. and his wife, Mary Kaye, embrace as he is announced the winner of the race for governor at the Republican gala, Nov. 2, 2004, in Salt Lake City. Hunstman beat Matheson with 57 percent of the vote. (Douglas C. Pizac / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. As the governor-elect, Huntsman. displayed his worn shoe leather, left, during a news conference, Nov. 3, 2004, in Salt Lake City. Huntsman passed out lapel pins of a worn shoe, right, as a symbol of his grass roots campaign whose hard work ethic he promised would be extended into his new administration. (Douglas C. Pizac / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Nine-year-old Hayley Alder writes the date on House Bill 1001 as Governor Huntsman watches during the signing at Amelia Earhart Elementary School, in Provo, Utah, May 2, 2005. Huntsman signed a measure defying the federal No Child Left Behind Act despite a warning from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings that it could cost $76 million in federal aid. Asked which department he would cut, he responded, the Department of Education. During his governorship, Huntsman also signed several bills limiting abortion. (Matt Smith / Daily Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. From left, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Canadian Ambassador to the United States Frank McKenna, and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, perform with Canadian country music singer George Canyon, during a reception at the Canadian Embassy, Feb. 25, 2006 in Washington. Huntsman dropped out of high school to play keyboards in a rock band called 'Wizard.' In 2005 he played on stage with REO Speedwagon at the Utah state fair. (Kevin Wolf / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman tries out the dirt motocross section of a track, April 13, 2006, at the Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah. Huntsman is a fan of motocross and helped grow outdoor tourism and sporting activities for the state. (Douglas C. Pizac / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Gov. Huntsman signs a declaration opposing the storage of nuclear waste in the state during a news conference, April 28, 2006, in Salt Lake City. The event was held to urge people in Utah to oppose the disposal site for spent nuclear fuel proposed for development on the Goshute Indian reservation. Despite his position against storing nuclear waste in Utah, Huntsman has made statements in support of nuclear power. (Douglas C. Pizac / ASSOCIATED PRESS) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Mexican President Vicente Fox, second from left, walks with Gov. Huntsman, while surrounded by security, to the legislative building at the State Capitol complex where Fox addressed the Utah legislature, May 24, 2006, in Salt Lake City. Huntsman's first foreign trip as governor was to Mexico in 2005. On immigration, Huntsman has been supportive of creating a path to citizenship for illegal aliens and against building a fence along the border with Mexico. (Douglas C. Pizac / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Gov. Huntsman holds his newly adopted daughter, Asha Bharati, as his wife Mary Kaye hold their other adopted daughter, Gracie Mei, at The Matruchhaya Orphanage in Nadiad, India, Dec. 19, 2006. Huntsman and his wife, who have five children of their own, adopted two more, one from China and one from India. (Sam Panthaky / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Gov. Huntsman and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sign a document to fight global warming, May 21, 2007, in Salt Lake City. The governors met at the mansion to sign the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative. The pact calls for a cap to greenhouse gas emissions and a trade program where emission credits could be sold. (Douglas C. Pizac / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Gov. Huntsman speaks during a news conference at the entrance to the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Utah, Aug. 17, 2007, as Richard Stickler, right, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, listens. The desperate underground drive to reach six trapped miners was suspended indefinitely after a cave-in killed three rescuers inside the mountainside mine. Huntsman appointed his former political opponent Scott Matheson, Jr. to head a commission on mine safety for the state shortly after the incident. Huntsman's father, philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., later donated $100,000 to help build a monument to honor the nine killed in the mine collapse. (Chris Detrick / The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain gives a press conference accompanied by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, left, and former Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, at the Million Air FBO, March 27, 2008 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Huntsman and Romney are distant cousins and both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Danny La / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. President Bush greets Gov. Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye, as he steps off Air Force One in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a private campaign fundraising event for Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, May 28, 2008. Huntman served in both Bush administrations, first as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and then Ambassador to Singapore under George H.W. Bush and then as a deputy trade representative under George W. Bush. Huntsman has also been an executive for his father's business. (Charles Dharapak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Gov. Huntsman, delivers the nominating speech for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for the office of vice president at the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 4, 2008. (Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Gov. Huntsman, right, and Democratic challenger Bob Springmeyer greet each other prior to their debate during a Rotary Club luncheon, Oct. 28, 2008, in Salt Lake City. Huntsman was easily re-elected, winning with over 77 percent of the vote. He maintained high approval ratings throughout his two terms and during his tenure, the Pew Center on the States named Utah the best managed state. (Douglas C. Pizac / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Gov. Huntsman kisses his wife, Mary Kaye, after signing his resignation document in the Gold Room at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Aug. 11, 2009. Huntsman resigned from his office following his nomination as ambassador to China by President Barack Obama. Huntsman became fluent in Mandarin Chinese during his two years as a missionary in Taiwan, where he later also lived. (Michael Brandy / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Huntsman, the new U.S. ambassador to China, gives a news briefing at his residence in Beijing on Aug. 22, 2009. At right is his wife Mary Kaye, carrying their daughter Asha Bharati., at left, daughters Gracie Mei and Mary Anne. Huntsman announced that President Barack Obama would make his first visit to China later that year. (Afp / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. President Obama tours the Great Wall of China outside Beijing on Nov.18, 2009, with the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Zhou Wenzhong, left, and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman briefs reporters outside the Supreme People's Court in Beijing on Feb. 18, 2011 where he called for the 'immediate' release of Chinese-born American geologist Xue Feng after a Chinese court rejected an appeal against his conviction and an eight-year sentence on a state secrets charge. During his service as ambassador, Huntsman repeatedly called for progress on human rights and in his final address he made sharp comments on China's record against dissent, commenting on the detentions of several high-profile activists including Feng, Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaobo. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Jon Huntsman submitted his letter of resignation as U.S. envoy to China on Feb. 2, 2011, amid reports that he might seek the Republican nomination in 2012 and try to deprive his boss, President Barack Obama, of a second term. Here Huntsman takes his seat for the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference luncheon February 2, 2011 in the Ben Franklin Room of the State Department in Washington, D.C. (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman looks at a Winchester rifle at Riley's Gun shop in Hookset, N.H., as he tests the waters for a possible 2012 presidential run, May 21, 2011. As governor, Huntman signed bills loosening gun regulation. His record also shows support for a legal status for same-sex unions, but not same-sex marriages. (Jim Cole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman announces his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, June 21, 2011, at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Left to right, Liddy Huntsman, Mary Anne Huntsman and Abby Huntsman Livingston, daughters of presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, appear on CBS's "Face the Nation" in Washington with host Bob Schieffer. The girls took an active roll in their father's campaign, producing videos, tweeting snarky updates from the campaign trail and using social media as a way to get their message out. (Chris Usher / CBS News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich react after Huntsman said it was time to move to a new topic because he feared his daughter, seated in the audience, was nodding off during their debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Dec. 12, 2011. Huntsman opted out of many of the televised debates and instead focused his campaign on the state of New Hampshire, where he participated in a two-man debate with competitor Gingrich. (Brian Snyder / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman greets voters before speaking at a town hall meeting in Thornton, N.H., Dec. 31, 2011. Huntsman has held more than 140 public events in the state, hoping to gain traction by grass-roots politics. “Voters will reward those who have actually been on the ground, put in shoe leather,” he said. Huntsman skipped Iowa, instead choosing to spend all his energy in the Granite State. (Cheryl Senter / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, left, stumps for Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman during a campaign stop at Globe Manufacturing Company on Jan. 04, 2012 in Pittsfield, N.H. Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania, endorsed Huntsman over fellow statesman Rick Santorum. (Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Jon Huntsman, announces he is ending his campaign, Jan. 16, 2012, in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Though he was endorsed by South Carolina's largest daily newspaper, he decided to drop out of the race before the Palmetto state's primary after placing third in New Hampshire. Huntsman endorsed Mitt Romney and called on the remaining candidates to end the negative campaigning. (Charles Dharapak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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