Lagging badly in the polls, GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. turned his attention to jobs Wednesday afternoon, unveiling a plan to jump-start the economy by revising the tax code, repealing financial regulations and opening up foreign markets.

Huntsman’s speech at Gilchrist Metal Fabricating, a manufacturing plant in Hudson, N.H., was his first major address since he announced his candidacy in June. It came as President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are set to release their own detailed jobs plans next week.

Called “Time to Compete,” the speech aimed to catapult Huntsman into the economic debate among the top-tier candidates and give his campaign some much-needed traction.

“There is no more urgent priority at this point in our nation’s history than creating jobs and strengthening our economic core; everything else revolves around it,” he said. “Meeting our challenges will require serious solutions, but above all, it will require serious leadership — a quality in high demand in our nation’s capital and among my opponents on the campaign trail.”

Huntsman’s plan calls for eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends, lowering the business tax rate, and instituting a tax holiday for repatriating corporate profits earned overseas.

Addressing regulations, Huntsman said he would repeal Obama’s health-care plan — all of his Republican rivals have vowed to do the same if elected — as well as the Dodd-Frank bill, which increased oversight of the financial sector.

Huntsman also took aim at the Environmental Protection Agency, which his opponents have also targeted, saying, “We must end the EPA’s serious regulatory overreach.”

As governor of Utah, Huntsman backed a “cap and trade” plan to limit greenhouse gases, but he has since backed away from that position.

In recent days, Huntsman, who served as Obama’s ambassador to China, has been more aggressive with his rivals, especially Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He has slammed Perry for his views on evolution and climate change.

Huntsman’s campaign has been dogged by infighting and high-level staff departures, and his more moderate brand of GOP politics has largely fallen flat — polls show him in the low single digits, far behind his rivals.

In releasing a jobs plan before Obama and Romney do, Huntsman sought to grab a head start on what will be the key issue in the battle for the White House.

He had harsh words for his former boss, saying he would make free-trade agreements a top priority.

“On each of these points and more outlined in our American Jobs Plan, President Obama’s economic record has been marked by failure. As the Obama administration has dithered, other nations are making the choices necessary to compete in the 21st century,” he said. “President Obama won in 2008 on hope. We’re going to win in 2012 on solutions.”

Over the next week, Huntsman will continue to campaign in New Hampshire, where he has built a large campaign operation but faces stiff competition from Romney and Perry.


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