CHARLESTON – Presidential Hopeful Jon Huntsman drew a crowd of about 100 students this afternoon at a speaking engagement at the College of Charleston.
In town to speak as part of the College of Charleston's Bully Pulpit series, Huntsman reflected on the U.S. president most well known for exercising the power of the bully pulpit, Teddy Roosevelt. Noting that Roosevelt was very concerned with the legacy each generation of Americans hands to the next, he said that concern also drives him.
"I think that's the one issue in this election cycle that drives me more than anything else," Huntsman said. "For the first time in the history of the greatest nation that ever was, the United States of America, we're handing down who we are to the next generation in a condition that is less good, less productive, less competetive, more divided and we're saddled with debt than the nation we've got."
He said the county is losing its engines of growth and civility, but that they can be refired, but the country has to address it now. He said the 2012 election may be the most important since the 1930s.
Huntsman said his main goal if elected is to rebuild America's manufacturing base, but he said American entreprenuers and investors are hamstrung by uncertainty and a lack of confidence in the country's current economic situation.
"We've got some great innovators and entreprenuers in this country, the best the world has ever seen, and they want to invest, they want to be active, they want to bring this country back to life, but there's no confidence, there's no believability in where this country is going thanks to things like healthcare reform, Obamacare and things like Dodd-Frank financial services reform," he said. "They can't see around the bend, and if you can't see around the bend you're not going to deploy capital expenditures in the marketplace, you're not going to run the risk of hiring people."
With comptent leadership, he said, America can rebound. He said the country needs to focus on rebuilding its manufacturing base. Having served as Ambassador to China in the Obama Adminstration, Huntsman said he's seen the burgeoning Chinese economy, which has been growing at more than 10 percent a year for 30 years, up close and that is has its own looming problems that will help make American made products competitive again.
"They're about tot become 4, 5, 6 percent per year, inflation is on the rise in China, 5-10 percent, the cost of labor is moving up 15-20 percent in the southern manufacturing zone, there's the rise of the Internet generation and the blogosphere in China like never before and a lot of disident voices are beginnig to speak out," he said.
As those problems in China converge, companies will begin to look elsewhere for investment opportunities.
"This country, at this point in time, if we are smart, we will create a truely competetive environment based on tax reform, based on a regulatory environment that is predictable and steps toward energy independence that will bring that investment dollar here," he said.
He said it will require a plan and leadership and talked about his record as governor of Utah which saw the largest increase in jobs in the country during his tenure and was a top competitor when it came to attracting businesses. He said part of that success came from moving Utah to a flat tax system, and said while other GOP candidates are talking about creatig a flat tax he has already done it.
"I'm not going to give you an academic lecture on it, I'm a practitioner, I've done it." he said.
Huntsman has been focusing most of his campaign on New Hampshire, where he has held 100 events so far meeting voters. Despite low poll numbers and name recognition nationally, he said his campaign will surprise everyone on election day and then carry that momentum through to South Carolina, and on to the White House.
Patch is at the event and you can follow us on Twitter at @MtPlsntSCPatch.
Huntsman aimed most of his criticism during the speech at Pres. barack Obama saying the U.S. is suffering from a lack of leadership.
After his speech Huntsman took a handful of questions from the audience, two of which focused on healthcare after he took a few shots at the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, referred to as Obamacare by opponents of the legislation.
He said simply calling for its repeal without having something better to replace it with was just pandering. Huntsman said he would call all 50 state governors together to figure out better ways to close the healthcare gap without a government mandate and make healthcare more affordable. Part of the onus of doing so will fall on insurance companies, which he said need to provide more affordable plans for the people who don't currently have insurance.
He was also asked by political science major Jordan Blanton why, since he supports civil unions, doesn't he support gay marriage. Blanton said drawing a distinction between heterosexual and homosexual couples essentially endorses discrimination.
Huntsman responded that he does support civil unions and traditional marriage, and that he doesn't see it as discrimination.
"He kind of evaded the question," Blanton said. "I kind of expected he would, he is in South Carolina, you can't say anything positive about homosexuals here."
Blanton, a McCain voter in 2008, said he hasn't decided who will get his vote this year, but said Huntsman seems like the best of the Republican candidates.
"I'm an independent, I don't like to label myself," Blanton said. "I liked some of what I heard, but I'm still waiting to see who else comes."
Not everyone in the crowd was impressed with Huntsman though.
"I wasn't too thrilled with some of the stuff he had to say, but when he said that we need to improve our standing in the world, and work to better our economic situation, and better our global image, he got that pretty right," said Hannah Duff, a sophomore from Bethesda, Md., who said she campaigned for President Obama in 2008.
"I'm a big fan of the Affordable Care Act, and I don't like when people call it Obamacare," Duff said. "I didn't think the solutions he was proposing was particularly viable. People are more likely to be critical of what we have now, because they don't understand it."
Huntsman also fielded a question about how the U.S. should respond to Iran.
Huntsman said American needs to stop nation building in Afghanistan and focus on nation building at home. He said since the U.S. has completed all of the goals it had when it invaded the Asian nation after Sept. 11 - removing the Taliban from power, disrupting Al Queda and killing Osama Bin Laden - a small contingent of special forces and military trainers should remain in Afghanistan, but that the bulk of U.S. troops need to leave the country.
On Iraq, however, Huntsman said pulling all U.S. troops out was a mistake.
Trailing in the polls, the former Ambassador to China and Utah Governor has in recent days has come out hard against front-runner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
A new Huntsman website calls Romney a flip-flopper and within the last week he has unveiled a cutesy web ad to compare Romney to a wind-up toy monkey.
Huntsman is also on the attack with Atlanta businessman Herman Cain. Huntsman’s daughters appeared in a recent web ad that pokes fun at Cain’s so-called “smoking ad.”
However Huntsman declined to go after either candidate during a short question and answer period with reporters following the speech.
All the attacks could be because a recent Gallup poll pointed out that "Just 50 percent of Republicans nationally recognize Huntsman. This is the lowest recognition value of any of the eight candidates we are tracking."
Huntsman is on a three-day tour of South Carolina. It began today in with stops in Beaufort and in Bluffton.
Thursday morning, Huntsman will headline at 8 a.m. at The Marina Inn at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach.
Then, it's off to Spartanburg to participate in a Converse College Presidential Forum at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Harness Auditorium at Carmichael Hall, 580 East Main Street, Spartanburg.
On Friday, Huntsman finishes the trip with a town hall hosted by the York County GOP and Winthrop University. The 8 a.m. event will be in McBryde Hall at 695 Scholars Walk, Rock Hill.