Huntsman seeks to define candidacy in N.H. primary

Outlines plans for job creation, reducing debt

MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF Political analysts say Jon Huntsman Jr. must distinguish himself from Mitt Romney, who is also targeting moderates. MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF
Political analysts say Jon Huntsman Jr. must distinguish himself from Mitt Romney, who is also targeting moderates.
By Shira Schoenberg
Globe Correspondent / June 22, 2011

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EXETER, N.H. — Hours after former governor Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah announced his run for the presidency yesterday in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, he traveled to the first-in-the-nation primary state, which will also be the first major test of his candidacy.

Huntsman told supporters in both New Jersey and New Hampshire, “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 is totally unacceptable, and it is totally un-American.’’

Echoing Reagan-like optimism, the former ambassador to China for President Obama said, “We have the power, we have the means, we have the character to astonish the world again by making from adversity a new and better country.’’

Huntsman has decided not to compete in the Iowa caucuses, and the road through New Hampshire will not be easy. He is entering a wide-open Republican field, in which he will probably woo moderate voters who until now have focused much of their attention on former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Huntsman has little name recognition — a recent Globe poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found he would get about 3 percent of the vote — and has already faced criticism from members of his own party and Democrats. Democrats have criticized him for embracing House Republicans’ plan to change Medicare to a voucher system, while Republicans worry about his service to Obama.

“His biggest problem was his fawning comments about President Obama,’’ said former governor John H. Sununu of New Hampshire, a Republican. “It appears to me that the only reason he took the appointment with Obama was he liked the president, believes in his philosophy and principles, and supports Obama. Coincidentally, it seemed like a useful step on the road to the presidential candidacy.’’

Dean Spiliotes, an independent political analyst in New Hampshire not affiliated with any presidential candidate, said Huntsman’s challenge will be to distinguish himself from Romney, because he will not appeal to the more right-wing segment of the state’s Republican Party. “The question is, what does he need to do to be seen as a plausible alternative to Mitt Romney?’’ he said. “He wants to be an interesting, fresher alternative to Romney.’’

One hint of how Huntsman will compete with Romney came in a recent interview with The New York Times, in which he said the primary campaign would be about both the economy and “authenticity.’’ Romney has faced criticism for taking positions more conservative than those he espoused running for office in Massachusetts.

In addition to serving in China, Huntsman, 51, worked in the Reagan administration and was US ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush. Before entering politics, he was a businessman; his family owns the Huntsman Corp. chemical company.

In his speech, Huntsman warned of the danger of a growing national debt and stressed the importance of creating a new industrial revolution. “We must reignite the powerful job-creating engine of our economy — the industry, innovation, reliability, and trailblazing genius of Americans and their enterprises — and restore confidence in our people,’’ he said. He touted his record as governor of Utah cutting taxes and balancing the budget.

Advisers say Huntsman’s campaign will focus on job creation, reducing debt by cutting spending, and foreign policy. Asked about his job policy after the town hall, Huntsman said he will seek to reform taxes and regulations and promote energy independence.

On foreign policy, Huntsman has expressed support for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan quickly and has criticized Obama for intervening in Libya.

Huntsman’s New Hampshire team includes Paul Collins, who was chief of staff forJohn E. Sununu, a former US senator for New Hampshire, and has worked for the state Republican Party; Merrimack County Commissioner Peter Spaulding, who chaired Senator John McCain’s 2000 New Hampshire campaign; and Richard Brothers, former commissioner of employment security.

In Exeter, many attendees knew little about Huntsman. “This is New Hampshire. We have to meet all of them, preferably at this distance,’’ said Frank Graham, 83, of Exeter, standing face to face with a reporter.

Some, like Carol Powell of Exeter, liked what they heard. “I’m so excited by someone who has faith, believes in his country, his enthusiasm, his age,’’ she said. “We can have him around for a while.’’

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at top stories on Twitter

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