Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. plans to announce a formal White House bid Tuesday with the Statue of Liberty in the background and a challenging race ahead of him.
"I intend to announce that I will be a candidate for the presidency a week from today," Huntsman said in New York City at an event with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Huntsman, who plans an insurgent campaign to knock through a wide-open Republican field, will kick off his White House bid at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, bracketed by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
It's the same spot where Ronald Reagan began his general election campaign after securing the Republican nomination some three decades ago.
On Tuesday, Huntsman, who served as a Reagan White House staffer, is likely to echo his former boss and hero.
After securing the nomination, Reagan stood in front of the American icon on Labor Day 1980 to castigate then-President Jimmy Carter for saying the American dream was over. Reagan pledged to renew faith in the ideas on which the country was founded.
"Let us pledge to each other, with this Great Lady looking on, that we can, and so help us God, we will make America great again," Reagan said.
Huntsman, who officially resigned as U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama about a month ago, plans a multistate tour after his formal announcement, hitting four key primary states and Utah, where he was elected twice as governor.
Huntsman, discussing China with Kissinger at a forum sponsored by Reuters, joked that his family looked "shocked and surprised" when he made his announcement official.
"I hadn't told them yet," Huntsman said.
It's clearly a joke since his kickoff event has been carefully staged to offer a big bounce as he jumps into a crowded field seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
Huntsman's service in the Obama administration could become a hurdle in the former governor's attempt to win the GOP nomination and ultimately defeat his former employer.
Huntsman also faces difficulties with past positions supporting civil unions and plans for a financial market for carbon emissions; he still backs civil unions but has backed off his previous cap-and-trade support.
With a toss-up race, however, Huntsman finds himself with other advantages, including the ability to take the stage as the fresh face. Huntsman's top strategist, John Weaver, who led Sen. John McCain's wins in New Hampshire in 2000 and 2008, has assembled a team of veteran campaign workers, many of them former McCain supporters themselves.
And Huntsman has already crisscrossed the nation and paid special visits to South Carolina, New Hampshire and Florida, all three key players in the GOP nomination process, since his return from Beijing in late April.
Asked at the Tuesday forum what he would do as president to improve U.S.-Chinese relations, Huntsman hinted at what his campaign message would be.
"The single biggest improvement we can make in the U.S.-China relationship would happen right at home, and that's getting our own house in order because we have a very weak economic core, we are less able to project the goodness and the power and the might of the United States," Huntsman said. "We sit diminished and discounted at the negotiating table, and everybody knows that. So if you want a strong U.S.-China relationship, I would argue we probably have a little bit of work here in our own backyard."
A California native, Huntsman hails from one of Utah's prominent families. His father, Jon Huntsman Sr., is the billionaire founder of Huntsman Chemical and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and a lay leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hierarchy.
Huntsman Jr., who sold his Utah home in 2005 after moving into the Governor's Mansion, now has a home in a swanky Washington, D.C., neighborhood.
O Check out The Tribune's section devoted to covering Jon Huntsman Jr.'s expected presidential campaign. >www.sltrib.com/huntsman