HANOVER, NH - Former US ambassador to China Jon M. Huntsman Jr. made his debut appearance here today before a crowd of voters who packed a banquet room for their first glimpse of the likely GOP presidential candidate.
"We are humbled even to be standing here with the possibility that we might make that decision in the weeks to come -- that of running for the presidency of the greatest country in the world," he said, with his family standing behind him.
The former Utah governor wasted no time addressing one of the issues often pointed to as a potential liability among primary voters and GOP activists: his tenure working for the Obama administration. He made no apologies.
"I served my president. My president asked me to serve. In a time of war, in a time of economic difficulty in this country, I'm the kind of person, when asked by my president to stand up and serve my country - when asked, I do it," he said.
The event, hosted by a former Republican National Committee member, took place in a popular restaurant outside the heavily Democratic college town of Hanover, but some attendees traveled long distances to question the man many see as a key challenger to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has a formidable fund-raising network and organizational structure.
Huntsman is not widely known outside of Utah and Washington, so the five-day tour of New Hampshire represents his introduction to a state where voters expect to closely question candidates.
The inaugural event was in a restaurant dining room decked out like a hunting lodge - a bear skin was draped from a rafter and an enormous moose head loomed over Huntsman's head as he spoke.
The planned choreography of the event quickly collapsed, as reporters and photographers swarmed Huntsman as he made his way around the room, introducing himself to voters. Microphone booms bobbed overhead, and senior citizens had to duck the cameras trained on Huntsman.
After some introductory remarks, those assembled began peppering him with questions. The first two were from a Dartmouth senior who asked about Israeli and Palestinian relations, and followed up by bluntly asking, "why should I work for you?"
As the crowd chuckled, Huntsman joked about being put on the spot in his first Granite State appearance.
Questions about Afghanistan, energy policy, and relations with China followed. As he later worked the room, he faced more questions, including what his views are on the House budget advanced by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, who proposed sweeping changes to Medicare.
"The way we do it in America, we put ideas on the table, we discuss them," he said. " There is a lot that is part of the Ryan plan that needs to be considered."
When pressed, he didn't endorse Ryan's proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system, but said "that is something like (what) we set up in Utah, where you've got a multiplicity of insurance options." Turning Medicaid into block grants for states "is a good thing, because right now Medicaid is blowing a hole in budgets throughout the United States."
Even after the crowd began dissipating, he went table to table in the restaurant to meet newly arrived diners.
Theo Emery can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @temery.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.