HANCOCK, N.H. -- Republican Jon Huntsman on Friday heard a major hurdle to his White House aspirations summed up in a single voter's question: "Aside from Utah, who are you?"
The little-known former Utah governor, who is almost certain to run for president, was using a five-day visit to the first-in-the-nation primary state to provide an answer to Republicans here and elsewhere searching for a candidate to challenge President Barack Obama.
"Get to know us. We're approaching this with honest and honorable intentions," Huntsman said at one stop, all but pleading with New Hampshire Republicans to hear him out even if their first inclination is to balk at him because he served as Obama's ambassador to China.
From intimate dinner conversations to small house parties and larger town hall events, Huntsman packed the schedule for his first campaign trip to a state that votes early in the GOP nominating process. He was making all the right moves and looking every bit the presidential candidate he is likely to become in the coming weeks.
His family traveled with him. He met privately with the state's political kingmakers. He lingered after each event to shake hands and engage in small talk. He stood among the crowds and not on stages or behind podiums.
He dressed casually, opting for a denim jacket over a sports coat at some events. And he lined up veterans of previous New Hampshire political campaigns who know the terrain.
Huntsman is set to deliver a commencement speech today at Southern New Hampshire University.
It was all designed as a show of force, sending a message that he would campaign seriously in a state that would be central to his nomination strategy, even if rival Mitt Romney is considered the hometown favorite.
In describing his experience, he mentions but doesn't linger long on his time in the Obama administration, recognizing that the affiliation is toxic for the party's conservative base.
And he offered a quick explanation -- honed in the three weeks since he returned stateside -- within three minutes of his first stop in New Hampshire.
"I'm the kind of person who, when I'm asked by my president, I stand up and serve my country," Huntsman said in Hanover.
He sought to play down a policy record that's more moderate than his rivals, telling voters that labels are too simple in politics.