Likely presidential contender Jon Huntsman Jr., looking to sharpen his political message ahead of an official announcement that he will seek the 2012 Republican Party nomination, took a couple of jabs at his former boss in a national interview over the weekend, saying President Obama has "failed on the economic front."
"On the economic side, there are no signs of success, very little," the former Utah governor said in a taped interview broadcast Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
The criticism of Mr. Obama marked a shift for Mr. Huntsman, who until about six weeks ago served as Mr. Obama's ambassador to China. In speeches and appearances, the undeclared candidate has generally avoided taking shots at Mr. Obama - or even at his potential rivals in the GOP field.
Other GOP presidential hopefuls have also been hammering the White House on its handling of the economy as Mr. Obama's approval ratings have dipped In recent weeks. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 59 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy, a drastic change from the spike he saw after the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
"Americans are not looking for someone they believe in," said former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican who is officially seeking the 2012 GOP nomination, on NBC's "Meet the Press." "They're looking for a president who believes in them."
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told "Fox News Sunday" the president has "run out of ideas."
Mr. Pawlenty, another 2012 contender, said Americans need to have faith. "This idea that we can't do it in America? Hogwash."
He outlined a plan filled with cuts that he said would "unleash economic growth and job growth in this economy."
He believes he can get the nation back on track by cutting taxes and spending to the tune of trillions of dollars over the next decade. He has proposed lowering the top individual tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent. He would also reduce the top corporate rate to 15 percent from 25 percent.
"American businesses today pay the second highest tax rates in the world," he said in a statement on his website. "That's a recipe for failure, not adding jobs and economic growth."
Mr. Santorum, a conservative Christian, said other social conservatives should not hold the Mormon faith of Mr. Huntsman and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney against them. But he also questioned their conservative credentials.
"I think they have held positions in the past that have not been conservative," he said.
In the CNN interview, Mr. Huntsman staked out a position on Afghanistan that not many Republicans in Congress have backed: He called for a quick pullout.
Mr. Huntsman said he would bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan more quickly than the president. The White House plans to bring home next month the first group of about 100,000 American servicemen currently in Afghanistan, with all combat troops leaving by 2014.
"When you look at Afghanistan, can we hang out until 2014 and beyond?" Mr. Huntsman asked. "You can, if you're willing to pay another quarter of a trillion dollars to do so.
"If it isn't in our direct national security interest and if there isn't a logical exit strategy and if we don't know what the cost is going to be in terms of money and human lives, then I think you have to say it's probably time we re-evaluate this," Mr. Huntsman said.
He said continued U.S. engagement required that a "strong argument" be made to the American people.
Mr. Huntsman, who is skipping Monday's GOP debate in New Hampshire, said he would likely make the final decision on running for president in about 10 days. He said most of the boxes are checked: a supportive family, confidence in raising the necessary campaign funds, a strong presence in the early primary states of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
He acknowledged that he doesn't expect to run strongly in Iowa because of his opposition to subsidies for corn-based ethanol.
"Will some people hold that against me?" Mr. Huntsman asked. "It's OK. You got to be who you are and march forward. Some people will like it."
c This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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