The former governor of Utah, Huntsman, 51, is lagging in polls of Republicans but has a high profile in the media and worries the Democratic Obama administration because of his possible cross-party appeal.
He was speaking at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, the site where former President Ronald Reagan launched his bid for the White House in 1980.
“For the first time in our history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got,” Huntsman said. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is totally unacceptable and totally un-American,” he said.
“We must make hard decisions that are necessary to avert disaster,” the former Utah governor said.
Huntsman learned to speak Chinese while on a Mormon mission to Taiwan during his college years. He and his wife Mary Kaye Cooper have seven children: five biological and two adopted from China and India.
He promised to conduct his campaign “on the high road” and respect Republican rivals as well as Obama, who leads most opinion polls of the 2012 presidential race.
“I respect the president. The question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president; not who’s the better American.“