Former Utah Gov. and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman on Sunday made his first Lowcountry campaign appearance since joining the Republican presidential race.
He talked seriously about the national debt, job creation and civil unions but also showed off his keyboard skills briefly as U.S. Rep. Tim Scott and former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster sang "Hit the Road Jack."
Scott invited Huntsman to appear at the town hall-style event at Charles Towne Landing -- the first in a series that Scott hopes will lure every GOP contender before South Carolina's presidential primary early next year.
Huntsman described himself as pro life, pro Second Amendment and pro growth and got his first applause when he voiced support for a balanced budget amendment. To bring down debt, he said, "Everything needs to be on the table," adding that included entitlements and defense spending.
Huntsman said if elected, he would push for comprehensive tax reform that would lower taxes on businesses; would pursue regulatory reform, including a repeal of "Obamacare"; and would do more to wean the nation off foreign oil, in part by emphasizing natural gas. He also said this nation must be more "skeptical" about getting involved in foreign entanglements, such as the fighting in Libya.
Scott dubbed the town hall a success, saying he had expected 75 to 100 people to show up. About 200 did. "It couldn't have gone much better," he said.
Not that everything went perfectly.
The live Facebook feed had some trouble, though Scott said two questions were submitted via that social media site. Also, the first questioner asked how many in the audience were tea party members, and several dozen held up their hands. She then asked how many think the nation needs a moderate president. Huntsman, who is viewed as such a candidate by many, replied that he would avoid labels.
Many present said they knew little about Huntsman before the event. Afterward, some said they weren't necessarily ready to vote for him in the primary but were impressed by things he said.
"I've still got an open mind," said Deborah Streetman of the Isle of Palms. "Any candidate running in the Republican party would be a step up on who we have."
Harold Smoak, who asked Huntsman about Standard & Poor's lowering of the nation's credit rating, said he thought Huntsman's answer -- that only time will tell --was "the only correct answer he could give." Smoak said Huntsman is one of his favorites. "If he's our guy, he gets my vote," he added.
But Jock Stender said he was unimpressed with Huntsman's reply to Stender's question about closing tax loopholes. Huntsman said he would do so only as a part of overall tax reform. Stender said he was "surprised and disappointed" by that answer.
Scott didn't leave all the questioning up to the audience. He asked Huntsman for his reaction to New York's support of civil unions among same-sex couples. Huntsman said his position is largely that of former President George W. Bush. Huntsman said he's for traditional marriage, but added the issue should be decided on the state and local levels. "Personally, I don't have a problem with civil unions," he added.
Scott plans to hold similar events on Aug. 22 with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and on Aug. 25 with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. No times or locations have been set.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.