Ralph Reed, organizer of the Faith and Freedom Conference, introduced former Utah governor Jon Huntsman this morning as "a good conservative and a great friend." Huntsman, who previously served as President Obama's ambassador to China, said he would speak on two topics--"life and liberty." He used his address today to highlight the adoption of his daughter Gracie Mei, his pro-life record in Utah, and the experience of Chinese dissidents.
“In 1999, Gracie was abandoned among the mushrooms, the carrots, and the bamboo shoots of the vegetable market in…China," Huntsman said. "In fact, I sometimes call her ‘our little bean curd.’”
"When asked who found her in that vegetable market. She simply replies, 'Jesus,'” Huntsman told the crowd. There were more than a few audible awwws from audience members in response.
"Although you would not know it in this town, there is something more essential than politics, and that’s life, especially a child’s life," Huntsman went on. "I can’t imagine how much poorer the world would be without Gracie and her younger sister Asha, who’s adopted from India. … [My wife] Mary Kay and I give thanks to those two mothers … for valuing their daughters lives enough so they could become our daughters."
He then rattled off his pro-life record: "As governor of Utah, I supported and signed every pro-life bill that came to my desk. I signed the bill that made second trimesters illegal and increased the penalty for doing so. I signed the bill to allow women to know about the pain abortion causes an unborn child. I signed the bill requiring parental permission for abortion. I signed the bill that would trigger a ban on abortions if Roe v. Wade were overturned.”
“I do not believe we should focus only on our economic life to the neglect of human life. That is a trade we should not make,” Huntsman said. "If Republicans ignore life, the deficit we will face is one that is much more destructive. It will be a deficit of the heart and the soul."
Huntsman is widely thought to be considering a run for the Republican nomination for president.
I asked a pair of young activists what they thought about Huntsman's address. "I think he hit some of the right notes considering he’s kind of a question mark at this point, especially with social conservatives," said Dan Bower, a student at Saint Michael's College. "So I thought he said everything that needed to be said to, well, at least make me feel comfortable in knowing that he is pro-life, pro-family."
Spencer Chretien, a student at the College of William and Mary, generally agreed. "I think that on the life issue, Jon Huntsman has a stellar record and I think that on issues like the Second Amendment he’s been very strong," he said. "I am a little bit concerned about his environmentalist activism and his really acceptance of the stimulus."
Both Bower and Chretien said they favor Rep. Michele Bachmann, who spoke earlier today at the conference, for president in 2012. But they also said they could now see themselves supporting Huntsman, if they were able to conclude that he would be electable.
"Anybody but Romney and anybody but Ron Paul," Bower said. "That’s my standard."