POLITICS
06/21/2011 03:48 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2011

Jon Huntsman's Campaign Announcement Puts Candidate In Shadow Of Reagan

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- It was five minutes before Jon Huntsman Jr., former governor of Utah and former ambassador to China, was scheduled to announce the official start of his campaign for president, and there was still no power to his microphone.

At 9:57 a.m., the power came on and Tom Loeffler, a former congressman from Texas, gave brief remarks. Then Huntsman, who had walked across a large field here at Liberty State Park with his wife and six of his seven children to reach the stage, began his speech.

"Today, I'm a candidate for the office of president of the United States of America," he said. "My kids can't believe I just said that."

But the team of advance staff and volunteers who set up the made-for-TV announcement could definitely believe it. They had spent weeks planning for Huntsman to make his announcement in the same place where Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 general election campaign.

With the Statue of Liberty in the background, framed by American flags, Huntsman gave a speech that in some sense was overshadowed by the actual staging of the event. His clothes -- a dark suit, white shirt and bright blue tie -- were coordinated with the red of his campaign sign to evoke further patriotic imagery. Before he spoke, songs, including "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever," played.

"It's a throwback to a more traditional announcement event," Mark McKinnon, the former media adviser to President George W. Bush, told The Huffington Post, adding that the event could "appeal to a large audience, which the GOP nominee will have to do to beat Obama."

Huntsman's advance team included tour director Lanny Wiles, one of Reagan's advance workers who later worked on Sen. John McCain's campaigns in 2000 and 2008. The production was contracted to Showcall, a company that handled events for Bush. But in other ways the presentation was less traditional: Huntsman played the last in a series of videos featuring a man in a motorcycle telling viewers about the new candidate, and his campaign's new logo looks like it could just as easily be the mark of a hotel rewards program.

Scott Sforza, who crafted major events for President Bush, said it made sense for Huntsman to pick the site where Reagan had spoken decades ago, but that he personally preferred the spot on Ellis Island where Bush gave an evening speech on Sept. 11, 2002.

"At Ellis Island," Sforza said, "you're far enough away from the Statue of Liberty that you can see the entire statue in the shot, and it's the front of the statue not the back." He noted that some networks had actually cut off the Statue of Liberty by zooming in on Huntsman and showing him speaking in front of a tour boat.

McKinnon added that no matter which side of the statue Huntsman spoke from, it was useful for him to be so close to New York and its media outlets -- including Fox News' Sean Hannity, who scored the first interview with official-candidate Huntsman.

But Huntsman himself kept his rhetoric lofty, even when referring to his elaborate announcement. He acknowledged that he stood in Reagan's shadow on Tuesday, and said he was also in the "shadow of this magnificent monument to our liberty," the statue behind him.

"Each generation in their turn has worked very hard to keep her lit," he said. "Now it's our turn."

First, though, it was Huntsman himself who had to be lit.

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