At an appearance in New York, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman says he will formally… (Brendan McDermid, Reuters )
Reporting from Derry, N.H. and New York —
A confident Mitt Romney took a post-debate victory lap threaded with swipes at President Obama on Tuesday, even as the ranks of the presumed front-runner's Republican challengers grew with the announced entrance of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
Huntsman's announcement, made at a long-scheduled appearance in New York, was brief: "I intend to announce I'll be a candidate for the presidency a week from now," Huntsman said.
Sources later said he would kick off his campaign at New Jersey's Liberty State Park, just across New York harbor from lower Manhattan. The site is a nod to Ronald Reagan, the last Republican to defeat a sitting Democratic president, who kicked off his general election campaign there in 1980.
Romney, fresh from a debate performance that attracted generally favorable notices, also adopted a Reagan touch, casting his criticisms of Obama's economic stewardship along the lines of a question that Reagan posed to devastating effect in unseating DemocratJimmy Carter.
Returning to a pair of New Hampshire businesses that he visited in his first presidential run four years ago, Romney said that "things aren't better now than they were four, five years ago."
He told reporters that "people expected things to get better in 2011. It hasn't happened. You can't blame George Bush anymore. President Obama is going to have to take responsibility for the fact that we are still in a very troubled economy, and you can't solve a crisis unless you recognize a crisis."
His remarks, outside the Derry Feed & Supply Co., included what some saw as a jab at Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor considered by some Republicans as the most serious challenger to Romney.
In response to a question about differences in the economic remedies being prescribed by the Republican candidates, Romney said he was reminded of a question he was once asked: "Who do you think would win a debate about running a business, between Jack Welch [the former GE chairman] and a second-year business student?"
Romney went on to say that "that would be Jack Welch" and that there is a difference between merely mouthing words about a problem and finding solutions.
"The words are easy. The experience took a long time to get," he said, referring to his years in business, including as an executive of a venture capital firm. Asked whether he was referring to Pawlenty, Romney declined to answer directly, noting that he hadn't mentioned any names, and then turned the topic back to what he said were Obama's shortcomings.
As he shook hands with patrons at diners in Derry and Manchester, Romney received compliments for his performance in Monday's debate, which was defined more than anything else by his six rivals' refusal to criticize him.
Romney felt confident enough, in chatting with the owner of a local hardware store, to promise a return visit in four years when, he said, "I'll probably have Secret Service with me."
Huntsman's announcement that he would be a candidate came as little surprise. He has been courting voters in early primary states since he returned in April from his post as Obama's ambassador to China.
As he has moved toward an official candidacy, Huntsman has stepped up criticism of his former boss, telling CNN Sunday that Obama "failed on the economic front."
"You look at unemployment, you look at the environment in which jobs supposedly can be created — when you look at the debt level and you look at all the economic indicators, it would suggest that we're in bad shape," he said.
Little known even by many Republican voters, Huntsman recently announced he would not compete in the leadoff Iowa caucuses. His first official campaign swing will include New Hampshire, South Carolina andFlorida.
Another potential GOP candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, offered the strongest signal yet Tuesday that he may mount a presidential campaign.
"Six weeks ago, this was not on my radar screen," Perry told Fox News in a live interview. But he said he was now pondering it.
"We're giving it the appropriate thought process. I'd hate to be pointing to a time specific, even if we decide to get in," he said.
A number of Perry advisers had signed on with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign when he entered the race last month. The mass resignation of much of the Gingrich team last week was widely seen as further evidence Perry was building toward a run of his own.
West reported from Derry and Baum from New York.