HANCOCK, N.H. (AP) — Republican Jon Huntsman on Friday heard a major hurdle to his White House aspirations summed up in a single voter's question: "Aside from Utah, who are you?"
The little-known former Utah governor, who is almost certain to run for president, was using a five-day visit to the first-in-the-nation primary state to provide an answer to Republicans here and elsewhere searching for a candidate to challenge President Barack Obama.
"Get to know us. We're approaching this with honest and honorable intentions," Huntsman said at one stop, all but pleading with New Hampshire Republicans to hear him out even if their first inclination is to balk at him because he served as Obama's ambassador to China.
From intimate dinner conversations to small house parties and larger town hall events, Huntsman packed the schedule for his first retail-style campaign trip to a state that votes early in the GOP nominating process. He was making all the right moves and looking every bit the presidential candidate he is likely to become in the coming weeks.
His family traveled with him. He met privately with the state's political kingmakers. He lingered after each event to shake hands and engage in small talk. He stood among the crowds and not on stages or behind podiums. He dressed casually. And he lined up veterans of previous New Hampshire political campaigns who know the terrain.
On Saturday, Huntsman was set to deliver a commencement speech at Southern New Hampshire University.
It was all designed as a show of force, sending a message that he would campaign seriously in a state that would be central to his nomination strategy, even if rival Mitt Romney is considered the hometown favorite.
At each stop, Huntsman fielded questions about globalization and education, corporate tax rates and trade. He spent a half-hour being grilled on climate change, questioned on how he would pay for Social Security and asked for details on how a health care overhaul he implemented in Utah differs from national Democrats' effort.
But the friendly who-are-you question from a voter in Hancock stood out among the rest. It was, after all, the reason Huntsman was in New Hampshire.
"I am a dad. I am the father of seven kids," Huntsman said, then ticked through his professional resume: a former governor, business executive and member of three Republican administrations.
In describing his experience, he mentions but doesn't linger long on his time in the Obama administration, recognizing that the affiliation is toxic for the party's conservative base. And he offered a quick explanation — honed in the three weeks since he returned stateside — within three minutes of his first stop in New Hampshire.
"I'm the kind of person who, when I'm asked by my president, I stand up and serve my country," Huntsman said in Hanover, standing under a stuffed moose and exposed wooden beams.
He sought to play down a policy record that's more moderate than his rivals, telling voters that labels are too simple in politics.
Testing out a stump speech throughout his trip, Huntsman offered himself to voters as a candidate whose experience as a diplomat, business executive and politician could usher in what he calls America's third industrial revolution. He argues that the United States could grab hold of a high-tech revolution if Washington lowers taxes and reduces regulation.
"We've had two industrial revolutions in our history. We're the only nation in the world that has been able to deliver this kind of industrial and manufacturing might. ... The question is do we want it?" he asked.
He didn't shirk from criticizing his former boss.
Asked during an interview with ABC News about his earlier praise of Obama as a "remarkable leader," Huntsman, replied: "History will show how effective he is."
He also argued that Obama erred in intervening in Libya, saying: "With all of our deployments and all of our engagements abroad, we need to ask a fundamental question: Can we afford to do this? That should be driven by the second point, which is whether or not it's in our national security interest. I felt from the beginning that Libya was not in our core national security interest."
And he suggested that a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is inevitable, saying: "We have too much in the way of boots on the ground in corners of the world where we probably don't need it."
Huntsman also sought to address some pieces of his biography some conservative voters might find disqualifying.
He backed away from previous statements supporting a "cap and trade" policy aimed at expediting corporate efforts to curb harmful emissions. And he declared himself "very proud of my Mormon heritage."
He also said he would repeal Obama's health care overhaul, if he had a chance, and he supported the alternative deficit-reduction plan put forth by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, which includes a proposal to substantially overhaul Medicare.
The interview was set in New Hampshire, part of an extensive and scripted introduction of Huntsman to the GOP electorate here and across the country.
In New Hampshire, Huntsman arrived to events in three-vehicle motorcades. Aides were at event sites hours ahead of time putting in place stage lights and tables. Few voters escaped without turning over their contact information so campaign staff could follow-up later. Those activities are typical on a mature campaign and illustrate how seriously Huntsman's aides are moving ahead — hurdles or not.
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