They say the day of a presidential kickoff is the best a candidate will have during the race. If so, Jon Huntsman’s mixed debut suggests tough sledding ahead.

The Post 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.

On the positive side, Huntsman looks the part of a presidential candidate and speaks in that unaccented, urbane voice that the media perpetually confuse for intellectual sophistication. He was a successful governor, is pro-life and strong on the Second Amendment. But already he is under fire:

“The Jon Huntsman I know supported Barack Obama and President Obama’s recovery act, but said it should have been larger,” said Wayne Holland, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, on a recent conference call with reporters.

“The Jon Huntsman I know worked with Democrats to pass the cap-and-trade program and said at the time it was the only alternative to a carbon tax. The Jon Huntsman I know signed into law a health insure exchange and proposed an individual mandate for Utah. It now appears that has all changed.”

That echoes what conservatives are saying about him. His campaign is greeted by conservative officials, activists and operatives with a mix of disdain and amusement.

From the mainstream media’s standpoint, he is the McCain 1980. He’s a “good Republican” — not too conservative, not too loyal to his party and infatuated (at least he was) with cap-and-trade. And unlike McCain, he’s running to the incumbent president’s left on foreign policy. So it’s not surprising he is lavished with praise. A political reporter asked me the other day, “Don’t you think Huntsman will eat Bachmann’s lunch?” Umm. No. But the total ignorance about the conservative movement is telling and will infuse the mainstream coverage of his race.

The appetite for his candidacy has always been an open question. If the audience at his announcement was any indication, there may not be one currently in the GOP electorate. (Politico reported, “The crowd was a mix of middle-aged professionals in suits, college-age students and a handful of Obama supporters, including one man in a New Jersey for Obama T-shirt.”)

His race, to the extent it gets off the ground, could drain votes from Mitt Romney (the media is obsessed with the Mormon vs. Mormon theme) or it could make him look more conservative by comparison and help further divide the not-Romney votes. Likewise, Tim Pawlenty now has a foil (other than Romney) to use to help tout his generally conservative record as governor.

To be honest, this is the closest thing to a Haley Barbour campaign, a candidacy that begins with far more traction inside the Beltway than outside. Anything is possible, but Huntsman, for now, contrary to what the media frenzy would have you believe, resides in the group of marginal candidates. If a caucus or primary were held today, who thinks he’d get more votes than Ron Paul? I rest my case.