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updated 9/16/2011 2:58:23 AM ET 2011-09-16T06:58:23

Republican presidential contender Jon Huntsman is to announce the endorsement of Tom Ridge, the former head of homeland security, according to a report.

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Ridge was expected to attend a press conference Friday with Huntsman at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire, the Union Leader newspaper reported overnight.

Ridge described Huntsman — a former governor of Utah who also served as U.S. ambassador to China — as "a serious, insightful leader" in a statement provided by the Huntsman campaign, the Union Leader said.

Ridge added that Huntsman, 51, was "uniquely qualified to lead America to a more secure, prosperous and competitive future. He has the experience we need to rebuild our nation's economic foundation and reduce our crushing debt."

He said that Huntsman would "bring together people from across the political spectrum to solve the many challenges we face, both at home and around the world," according to the Union Leader.

GOP contenders for VP

Ridge was governor of Pennsylvania during the 9/11 attacks when 40 passengers and crew died as Flight 93 crashed into a field in the state. He was later named the nation's first head of homeland security.

Standing ovations
In an old-fashioned town hall meeting in Sandown, New Hampshire, Thursday, Hunstman received two standing ovations from the audience, which the campaign said consisted of more than 65 people, NBC News reported.

In a new version of his stump speech, he more aggressively pushed his experience in China than before, touting his understanding of global competition.

"You want a president who ... knows China intimately well," he said, according to NBC News.

Huntsman also told the audience that "we need to breed a little predictability in our economy ... (and) that means we need to repeal Obamacare."

Video: Pawlenty endorses Romney (on this page)

In the race to become the Republican's choice to take on Barak Obama in 2012, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas governor Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann have attracted most support so far this year.

Perhaps reflecting his status as a frontrunner, Perry found himself attacked from all sides at a debate Monday on his record for creating jobs and the requirement for schoolgirls to be vaccinated against a cancer-causing sexually transmitted virus.

Video: GOP goes after Perry during Fla. debate (on this page)

It was clear that the presidential hopefuls were not only eager to court support from the most conservative voters, but were anxious not to offend seniors and others who depend on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Perry on the defensive at GOP debate

  1. Closed captioning of: Perry on the defensive at GOP debate

    >>> perry found himself on the defensive during last night's fiery gop debate. among those who went after him, congresswoman michele bachmann . we'll talk to her in a moment. chuck todd has the latest.

    >> good morning, savannah. seven of the republican candidates made it clear who their front-runner is. the tea party debate turned into a texas bashfest.

    >> the people who are on social security today need to understand something, slam dunk guaranteed, that program is going to be there in place.

    >> reporter: front-runner rick perry began his second-ever presidential debate trying to reassure seniors his ponzi scheme comments about social security were taken out of context. it has been called a ponzi scheme by many people long before me, but no one's had the courage to stand up and say here is how we're going to reform it.

    >> the question is do you still believe that social security should be ended as a federal program as you did six months ago when your book came out?

    >> i think we ought to have a conversation --

    >> we're having that right now, governor. we're running for president.

    >> i'll finish this conversation.

    >> i think those types of thoughtful conversations with america rather than trying to scare seniors like you're doing and other people, it's time to have a legitimate conversation in this country.

    >> governor, the term ponzi scheme is what scared seniors.

    >> reporter: unlike last week, romney wasn't alone in going after perry . michele bachmann hammered the texas governor for his support of statewide vaccinations against girls 12 and over against causing cervical cancer .

    >> to force 12-year-old little girls to have a government vaccination is flat-out wrong.

    >> at the end of the day this is about trying to stop a cancer.

    >> you may criticize me about the way i went about it, but at the end of the day i am always going to err on the side of life.

    >> reporter: bachmann also questioned whether a campaign contribution from a drug company influenced perry 's decision.

    >> there's a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate.

    >> the company was merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that i had received from them. if you're saying that i can be bought for 5,000, i'm offended.

    >> i'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice. that's why i'm offend, sir.

    >> it didn't get easier for perry when the issue of immigration came up as the crowd let him know that they didn't like the policy to give tuition to mexican immigrants.

    >> no matter how you got in, from the standpoint if your parents brought you there or what have you.

    >> think the american way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or are here in the united states illegally. that is not the american way .

    >> it was that kind of night for perry . it wasn't just from romney and bachmann, santorum jumped in. ron paul hit him. even john huntsman tried, though, a couple of his jokes or barbs fell flat including one that was an odd troefrns kurt cobain . other than that, these guy s gather again next week.

    >> reporter:


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