NAPLES — A recently-christened GOP presidential candidate rushed from the Naples Yacht Club dining hall.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman spent only two hours in Naples. But he had a lot of Florida to cover.
Just two days into his campaign, he cruised through the Sunshine State on Thursday, making other stops in Miami and Orlando. The state is a target for his campaign.
“Florida is a key state,” he said after attending a private luncheon. “We’ll work it very aggressively. You’ve got to own the corridor.”
Huntsman has close ties to Florida. His political action committee is run by Susie Wiles, who successfully managed Rick Scott’s run for governor. His wife, Mary Kaye, is from Orlando -- where Huntsman’s campaign was formally launched Thursday evening.
“Florida is a very sentimental and dear place to us, so it made sense all the way around to be here,” Mary Kaye Huntsman said.
The Orlando region will be key to winning
Florida in the 2012 election. It saw some of the greatest growth over the last decade, predominantly from an influx of Puerto Ricans. Their votes are considered up for grabs.
Florida has one of the nation’s largest, mostly Hispanic, immigrant populations, and Miami is a hub for the major Spanish-language TV networks.
When asked about his immigration policy in Miami, the governor looked briefly stumped and hesitated before answering, the only time during his morning events when he seemed momentarily unprepared.
“To begin this conversation, we need to prove the point we can secure the border,” he then said. “But we haven’t done that.”
Huntsman, who served as former ambassador to China under President Barack Obama, formally launched his White House campaign Tuesday in an iconic setting fit to his commitment “to renew the promise of America.” Standing with two American flags at his side and the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop, Huntsman made the call for “leadership.”
“What we talk about, we have actually done in the real world,” Huntsman said on Thursday in Naples.
During his term as governor, Utah’s employment rate fell to 2.4 percent -- the lowest the state has seen in years. The state also experienced the largest tax cuts in Utah’s history, more than 400 million.
Even with his political credentials some believe his fledgling campaign is off the radar. Huntsman has far less name recognition than some of his competitors, including front-runner former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
“I call him the undiscovered leader in America,” Mary Kaye Huntsman said. “People are going to get to know him and I think we are going to see that as the crowds continue.”
Maybe undiscovered, but not unmemorable.
Naples resident Mary-Rita Carey was impressed by the politician.
“I like that he is a family man and a business man,” said Carey, 72.
Huntsman has seven children. Two of his daughters are adopted from Asia.
Huntsman, like Romney, is a Mormon, and polls have shown many voters have reservations about electing a Mormon president. His service in the Obama administration and his moderate position on some issues, including same-sex civil unions and climate change, could also hurt him in the primary even as it makes him a stronger challenger to the president.
“I am used to political life,” Carey said. “I like to look at early candidates and I like this man.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.