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Jon Huntsman, former governor and ambassador to China, announces GOP presidential bid

Former Utah governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman announced his bid for the presidency in front of the Statue of Liberty on Tuesday. As Nia-Malika Henderson reported:

Jon M. Huntsman Jr. officially launched his White House bid here Tuesday morning, setting up a campaign for the GOP nomination that, if successful, would lead to a matchup against his former boss.

“I’ve been a governor ... I’ve been a businessman and a I’ve been a diplomat. I’m the husband of the love of my life ... and the father of seven terrific kids,” Huntsman told a crowd of supporters at Liberty State Park, the Statue of Liberty rising just behind him. “I’m from the American West, where the view of America is limitless with lots of blue sky.”

Huntsman, former U.S. envoy to China and Utah governor, joins a wide-open and restless Republican field, and immediately will face some specific challenges.

Not only must he raise his relatively low national profile, he must establish himself as a clear alternative to Mitt Romney, the presumed front-runner, and finesse his ties to Obama, for whom he served in Beijing in 2009 and 2010.

In the days leading up to his announcement, Huntsman — who, like Romney, is of the Mormon faith — launched a series of video ads on his Web site that sought to fill in the blank spaces in his biography.

The patriotic setting of his campaign launch echoes Ronald Reagan’s general election kickoff in 1980. His remarks include optimistic references to American achievement and potential.

“We are a resourceful, ingenious, determined, problem-solving people. ... We choose our destiny,” Huntsman said. “This is that moment. We’re not just choosing new leaders. We’re choosing whether we are to become yesterday’s story or tomorrow’s.”

While Huntsman is a relative unknown to many American voters, and introducing himself to the Republican base is just one of the challenges ahead. As Chris Cillizza explained:

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman formally announced for president Tuesday morning, kicking off a several months-long getting-to-know-you process that will determine just how serious a contender he will be for the Republican nomination in 2012.

Huntsman is almost entirely unknown to the voting public, having spent the last 18 months as the Obama Administration's ambassador to China and prior to that serving in elected office in one of the least high profile states in the union.

He is, without question, the least defined candidate of any of the Republicans considered serious players in the fight for the GOP nod next year.

But is he a new kind of Republican leader? Or a moderate masquerading as a conservative? The answer to those twin questions is the pivot on which Huntsman’s candidacy currently teeters.

What’s beyond dispute is that almost no one has heard of Huntsman.

In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, six in ten Republicans didn’t know enough about him to offer an opinion — numbers only slightly better than no-shot former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson (69 percent no opinion). The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had a similar findings; 64 percent of people said they didn’t know enough about Huntsman to rate him.

That Huntsman is a virtual unknown isn’t terribly surprising as he has never run for president before (like former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney) or been a regular on cable chat shows (like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann).

What makes Huntsman unique then is that there are two radically different storylines about him that will fight for dominance over the next two or three months.

With Huntsman joining Romney as the second Mormon in the GOP primary field, it is unclear who will garner the most support from the Mormon community. As Philip Rucker and Nia-Malika Henderson reported:

The first showdown between the two Mormons running for president will take place this week in Utah, where Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. will hold competing fundraisers only a couple of hours and a few blocks apart.

Huntsman will launch his campaign Tuesday near the Statue of Liberty. He and Romney are trying to tap into the wealth of the Mormon community, one of the Republican Party’s ripest donor pools and one that both are laying special claim to.

Romney and Huntsman are trying to parlay their status in Utah — the former as the turnaround artist who saved the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the latter as a recent governor and both as scions of wealthy and influential Mormon families — to give themselves an advantage in the 2012 race.

“That community is going to be split, there’s no doubt about it,” said John Weaver, Huntsman’s chief strategist. “That’s natural, because they know both families and they know both men.”

Weaver, perhaps trying to lower expectations for his candidate, said Romney’s 2008 race gives him a head start with Mormon donors. “There will be people who support both, and there will be people who will support Romney,” he said. “And we have some major bundlers and donors who have seen both who are going with us. But it’s not so much about taking people away.”

More from The Washington Post

Opinion: Reflections of Obama in Huntsman message

The Fix: Jon Huntsman and the politics of playing nice

Checkpoint Washington: Huntsman’s national security buzzword

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