When Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman formally announced that he was running for president this morning, he did so from the same spot where Ronald Reagan kicked off his campaign against Jimmy Carter in 1980.
In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, he hoped the symbolism–this is where Reagan, conservative hero, also started–would be enough to for a man who supports civil unions and recently served as Obama’s Ambassador to China to prove to Republican primary voters that he was one of them.
The speech was almost painfully optimistic. He avoided direct personal digs at Obama, effusively praising his character and saying that his campaign will be about “who will be the better president, not who’s the better American.”
It seemed like a deliberate jab at Republican front-runner Mitt Romney’s complaint that Obama gets his inspiration from the “capitals of Europe.” The tiny crowd of journalists, undecided northeast College Republicans, and Wall Street-types cheered.
He kept his criticism vague and indirect. “We can and will own the future,” he said at one point, a reference to Obama’s State of the Union refrain that his policies would help America “Win the Future.”
His tone was different from that of the other candidates in that it did not reflect the anger of the Tea Party, but Huntsman made it very clear he was still a Republican: his first interview was just steps from the podium with Fox News television host and GOP booster Sean Hannity, who interrogated him about an appreciative hand-written note he gave to Obama in 2009 shortly before leaving for Beijing.
Huntsman told Hannity that Obama “had failed in a number of ways.” He finished doling out his slice of conservative red meat, then left for a quick trip to New Hampshire. He’ll be returning tonight, for a fundraiser at an undisclosed location in Manhattan.