Jon Huntsman looks for a campaign boost in debate

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman speaks at a rally in West Valley City, Utah, July 16, 2011. AP Photo

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and President Obama's former ambassador to China, has a shot tonight to give his presidential campaign a much-needed boost in his first presidential debate appearance.

The moderate Republican has so far lagged in the polls, and his campaign has been beset with problems like financial issues. But he will use the debate in Ames, Iowa tonight to introduce himself to voters and attempt to set himself apart from the other GOP candidates for president.

Another former governor who, like Huntsman, happens to be Mormon -- Mitt Romney -- has so far led in polls of the Republican field, but Huntsman told CBS News White House Correspondent Norah O'Donnell that his record on the economy tops Romney's.

"Look at our record as governors," he said. Utah was "the number one job creator in the country -- Massachusetts, number 47."

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Neither Huntsman nor Romney, however, is gunning for the support of Iowa voters, who are the first in the nation to nominate their preferred presidential candidates. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is expected to make a strong showing in Iowa, and Huntsman acknowledged "she's compelling and she's hardworking, and she's embraced a lot of issues around fiscal responsibility."

However, he added that unlike Bachmann, "I've been a governor of a state that has actually fixed economy."

Huntsman said he also stands apart from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who will officially enter the race on Saturday, because of his record in the private sector. Voters, Huntsman said, want "somebody who understands the fragility of the free market, having been there."

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