Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman made a brief appeal to York County voters Friday morning at the end of a three-day swing through South Carolina.
The country is ready for a "straight-forward, no-nonsense, common-sense discussion about where we are," said the self-proclaimed "underdog" in the crowded Republican field.
The latest Rasmussen poll of 770 likely S.C. Republican primary voters confirms that role for the former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China, who pulled 1 percent.
His first visit to York County was a low-key, early morning crowd of about 50 in Winthrop University's Tuttle Dining Room.
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Huntsman's half-hour speech hit party pitch with promises for tax and regulatory reform along with ending corporate welfare and cutting taxes for businesses.
But he also delivered an even-toned message while gently rebuffing other Republican candidates for their political theatrics.
"I'm not going to parachute in some place and pander" or "sign silly pledges; I'm not going to trek to New York City to meet Donald Trump," Huntsman calmly said, eliciting a chuckle from the audience.
"There are just some things I'm not going to do."
A two-term governor of Utah who served from 2004 to 2009, Huntsman painted himself as the only candidate with the executive experience to pull the country out of economic recession and restore it to global competitiveness.
His experience creating a flat tax in Utah distinguishes him in the GOP field, he said.
"I don't know anybody in this race who's actually done a flat tax before," he said.
Huntsman provided handouts of his three-tiered tax plan, which Winthrop economics professor Laura Ullrich deemed "the only one that makes sense." Nonpartisan studies have recommended similar approaches, she said.
Ullrich doesn't like everything about the plan, including its elimination of the capital gains tax. But its progressive tax structure - higher rates for higher incomes - is important, she said, because almost all other taxes go the other way, placing a greater burden on lower-income people.
One audience member pointed out that Huntsman's fluency in the language and familiarity with the Chinese government and culture would give him an advantage other candidates don't have, especially when dealing with China.
Huntsman - the U.S. ambassador to China from 2009 until he stepped down to run for president earlier this year - agreed.
He said the United States has "a unique opening in history" to attract investment dollars "usually landing in China ... looking for an alternative" as China's economic growth rate falls and inflation rises, lessening their ability to grow, he said.
Knowing how to negotiate with the Chinese is key, he said.
Huntsman has been polling in the single digits in South Carolina, trailing falling stars Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, as Herman Cain and Mitt Romney push ahead. He's been pegged an unlikely nominee for being a "moderate" and having ties to the Obama administration.
On Friday, Huntsman addressed criticism he has fielded for being ambassador to China under Democratic President Barack Obama.
Not to serve when he had something to offer would have been "unpatriotic," he said.
He warned that a "hyper-partisan environment" - one in which "we're in our respective corners, shooting at each other" instead of putting the country first - would lead to the country's downfall.
Dismissive of polls where he's performing among the worst of candidates, Huntsman said voters still have time to make informed decisions about whom they'll support.
Wes Clark, a former Winthrop student and Army veteran deployed four times - twice each to Iraq and Afghanistan - said he "tries to come to (see) the smaller guys" or candidates who aren't followed as closely by the media.
He's looking for someone who's not "campaigning strictly on ideology" and knows how to "compromise," he said.
With the GOP field moving "farther right every chance it can," Huntsman is "totally outside" what the more radical GOP voters - who usually determine the nominee - will accept, said Karen Kedrowski, a professor of political science at Winthrop.
Huntsman hopes independent voters who participate in the open primary will make the difference for him in South Carolina and elsewhere.
"They need to find a home at the end of the day," he said.