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Huntsman joins fray in race to be GOP's presidential nominee

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman announced his candidacy for the presidency Tuesday, casting himself as an atypical politician and pledging to take the "high road" in his campaign for the 2012 Republican nomination.

Huntsman, who only recently stepped down as President Obama's ambassador to China, decried the "corrosive" nature of 21st century politics, saying he won't "run down" his rivals for the GOP nomination -- or the president.

"I respect the president of the United States," Huntsman said, the Statue of Liberty at his back, American flags at his side. "He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president; not who's the better American."

Huntsman, who made his pitch from the same spot where Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy in 1980, looked to his own experience as governor to sound themes popular with conservative voters: lower taxes, less government.

Americans, he said, are experiencing "a sense that the deck is stacked against them," but the United States has the means to rebound.

"What we now need is leadership that trusts in our strength," he said. "Leadership that doesn't promise Washington has all of the solutions to our problems, but rather looks to local solutions from our cities, towns and states."

He touted his record as governor, saying that under his leadership Utah cut taxes, flattened tax rates, balanced its budget and "when the economic crisis hit, we were prepared. We proved that government doesn't have to choose between fiscal responsibility and economic growth."

He signaled support for reduced U.S. military involvement abroad, a day before Obama is to announce from the White House his plans to start drawing down troops in Afghanistan.

Considered a moderate Republican -- he opposes abortion rights but has backed civil unions for gays -- Huntsman may find his path to the nomination complicated, strategists say. But his campaign says his background as governor and his foreign policy experience set him apart in the crowded field of GOP hopefuls, none of whom has emerged as a consensus front-runner.

Part of Huntsman's pitch is his unorthodox biography -- he dropped out of high school to travel with his band, Wizard -- and his campaign has played up the image in videos by Republican ad maker Fred Davis, showing a lone motocross rider zipping across the West.

Voters in New Hampshire suggest that Huntsman might have trouble carving out space from fellow Mormon Mitt Romney, a neighbor who owns a home there and has campaigned nearly nonstop since the 2008 primary.

In other developments:

* Newt Gingrich's top two fundraising advisers resigned on Tuesday, and officials said the Republican candidate's hobbling presidential campaign carried more than $1 million in debt. The departures of fundraising director Jody Thomas and fundraising consultant Mary Heitman were the latest blow for the former House speaker who watched 16 top advisers abandon his campaign en masse earlier this month.

* The top elected Mormon in the Democratic Party said the country is not ready for fellow-Mormon Romney as the Republicans' presidential nominee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters on Tuesday that Romney, in his words, "doesn't know who he is." As one example, Reid said Romney supported gay marriage when he was governor of Massachusetts but now opposes it. In fact, Romney did not support gay marriage but did say during his 1994 Senate race that he would be stronger on gay rights than his opponent, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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