NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman will announce his bid for the White House next Tuesday, bringing a moderate Republican and expert on America’s fastest growing competitor into the race to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.
“I intend to announce that I will be a candidate for the presidency a week from today,” Huntsman, former U.S. ambassador to China, said at an event hosted by Thomson Reuters.
The formal announcement of his candidacy will be made on June 21 near the Statue of Liberty, a source close to Huntsman said.
Huntsman, 51, is one of the few Republican hopefuls who worries Obama’s re-election team, though his name recognition across the country is low.
Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, he upset the White House in April by quitting his job as ambassador in Beijing to return to the United States and plan his election campaign.
If he picks up traction in the polls, Huntsman could be a rival to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for the role of the moderate Republican candidate.
Huntsman left his governorship in August 2009 with sky-high approval ratings and a reputation for fiscal conservatism, but his more moderate views on social issues could make his path to winning the Republican nomination difficult.
Familiarity with voters is also a problem.
A recent look by the University of New Hampshire’s survey center showed Huntsman favored by only 1 percent of voters in the state, which has an early February primary that can help a candidate build momentum.
Seventy-one percent of those polled had never heard of him despite Huntsman campaigning there.
Huntsman was absent from the first major Republican debate on Monday, where Romney was seen to have performed well.
So far, Huntsman has been reluctant to criticize his fellow competitors, and he has painted his background in China as a strength.
Many conservative voters his having worked in the Obama administration as a liability, and Obama himself has touted his work as a not-so-subtle way of highlighting those ties.
Asked at the Thomson Reuters event how that background would help him win the White House, Huntsman sounded out a likely campaign theme, saying the United States had to fix its own economic and fiscal problems to compete.
“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,” he 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 that we probably have a little bit of work here in our own backyard.”
Congressional Republicans and Democrats are currently negotiating ways to bring down the deficit and reduce federal spending, talks that are being watched by investors worldwide.
Huntsman dropped out of high school to play in a rock band. He learned to speak Chinese while on a Mormon mission to Taiwan during his college years. He and his wife Mary Kaye Cooper have seven children,
Additional reporting by Alistair Bell and Paul Eckert; Editing by Jackie Frank