Huntsman is behind in the polls but is expected to benefit from his high profile in the media [AFP]
Jon Huntsman, a former US ambassador to China, has announced that he will run for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2012 election, joining a long list of other Republican candidates.
Pledging to make "hard decisions" to prevent the US from sinking into a debt disaster, the former governor of Utah formally announced his candidacy in front of the Statue of Liberty where Ronald Reagan launched his first successful presidential bid in 1980.
"I stand in his shadow, as well as the shadow of this magnificent monument to our liberty," Huntsman said on Tuesday.
"I'm Jon Huntsman, I've been a governor, a businessman, and a diplomat. I'm the husband of the love of my life and the father of seven terrific kids," he said.
"A son of great parents. I'm from the American west, where the view of America is limitless with lots of blue sky."
Huntsman, 51, is considerably behind in polls of other Republicans seeking the party's nomination in 2012, but he is expected to benefit from a high profile in the media.
Huntsman, who is seen by many analysts as having cross-party appeal, upset the White House in April by quitting his job in Beijing to prepare for the race against Obama who had appointed him in 2009.
Speaking at Liberty State Park in New Jersey as the wind whipped the US flags arrayed behind him, Huntsman pledged to turn the country around as president.
"For the first time in our history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got," Huntsman said.
If Huntsman picks up traction in public opinion polls, he could rival former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for the role of the moderate Republican candidate.
Both Huntsman and Romney are telegenic public figures with a reputation as fiscal conservatives and social moderates.
"We must make hard decisions that are necessary to avert disaster," the former Utah governor said, painting a bleak picture of the debt problem and the huge US budget deficit.
"If we don't, in less than a decade, every dollar of federal revenue will go to covering the costs of Medicare,
Social Security and interest payments on our debt," he said.
"Meanwhile, we'll sink deeper into debt for everything else - from national security to disaster relief."
Huntsman paints his knowledge of China, the country's main global commercial rival and foreign lender, as a strength. But some conservative voters see his working for Obama as a liability.
His campaign strategy, which includes setting up campaign headquarters in the key swing state of Florida, has won him praise from campaign watchers.
"Huntsman has a very narrow window to the nomination, but it's not insurmountable," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist.
His team has sought to portray him as different from the typical political candidate.
It has run advertisements showing a motorcycle rider weaving through Utah's dramatic Monument Valley scenery with teasers about Huntsman's former rock band "Wizard" and his seven children, "one from India, one from China".
Huntsman promised on Tuesday to conduct his campaign "on the high road" and respect Republican rivals as well as Obama, who leads most opinion polls of the 2012 presidential race.
"I respect the president. The question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president; not who's the better American," he said.
Huntsman lacks national name recognition and many polls put his support at less than two percent, but he left his governorship in August 2009 with sky-high approval ratings and a reputation for fiscal conservatism.