Huntsman to announce White House run

By Jeff Mason

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 is one of the few Republican hopefuls who worries Obama’s re-election team.

Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, he upset the White House in April by quitting his job as ambassador to 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.

But the former ambassador’s poll numbers are low.

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 in the state.

Huntsman was absent from the first major Republican debate on Monday, where Romney was seen to have performed well.

A fiscally conservative governor, Huntsman left office in August 2009 with sky-high approval ratings. But his more moderate views on social issues could make his path to winning the Republican nomination difficult.

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 has seven children.