Huntsman signs up for first-in-the-South presidential contest
Politics • He faces a Mormon inquiry a day into presidential run.
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Columbia, S.C. • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. whipped out his Utah driver license as identification on Wednesday as he became the sixth Republican to seek the South Carolina presidential nomination.

After first checking with daughters Gracie Mei and Asha, Huntsman signed a form to enter the first-in-the-South primary contest, plopping down a check for $35,000 to pay the entrance fee.

"This state is going to be critically important to us," Huntsman told supporters outside. Noting that he bribed a worn-out Asha with a piece of candy to brighten up, Huntsman added that he understood it wouldn't be so easy with South Carolina Republicans.

"We're going to have to earn your support," he said.

He got a boost in that effort on Tuesday night at a fundraiser in New York City. Huntsman's campaign raked in $1.2 million at that first-day event, not including donations to his website, according to campaign manager John Weaver.

Earlier Wednesday, Huntsman donned safety glasses as he toured a Thermal Engineering Corp. plant that produces infrared grills.

Huntsman fielded questions from local reporters about a labor dispute between the federal government and South Carolina, about troop reductions in Afghanistan and whether he considers himself a conservative.

"I'm a conservative problem-solver," Huntsman said.

And then, a little more than 24 hours after he officially entered the race, Huntsman got a question about whether he considers himself a Mormon.

"I believe in God," Huntsman responded. "Good Christian. I'm very proud of my Mormon roots."

Huntsman noted that his wife, Mary Kaye, was raised as an Episcopalian. "Spirituality is very important," Huntsman said.

Huntsman, whose father, Jon Huntsman Sr., is a lay leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has said previously that he still considers himself a Mormon, though has stressed that he draws spiritual inspiration from all faiths.

Polls have shown that voters are hesitant to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, and in few states is that more of an issue than in South Carolina, often referred to as the buckle of the Bible Belt.

The question about his faith came during Huntsman's first appearance in South Carolina since he announced Tuesday morning that he would seek the presidency.

The former Utah governor and multimillionaire also said that he had provided seed money to his campaign but declined to say how much.

"I put in a little bit to prime the pump," Huntsman said.

Weaver said afterward that the amount would be disclosed when the campaign files its first Federal Elections Commission report, due in mid-July.

tburr@sltrib.com —

Other Huntsman developments

• He disputed a report in the Chicago Sun-Times that President Barack Obama's former senior adviser, David Axelrod, said when he traveled with Huntsman in Shanghai, the then-ambassador "could not have been more effusive about the president, including the domestic initiatives, health care and so on." Huntsman said he steered clear of political discussions with Axelrod.

• He said he would participate in an August presidential debate in Iowa.

• Huntsman declined to say how many troops he believed the United States should leave in Afghanistan but that the number was "far south of 100,000," the number currently there