Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman called Wednesday for sweeping tax changes and new trade agreements to help revitalize the nation's manufacturing sector and create jobs.
Struggling in the polls, the former Utah governor became the first active Republican contender to offer a detailed job-creation blueprint, timing it for the week before President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney announce their own plans.
Huntsman called for eliminating taxes on capital gains and reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, similar to pitches his rivals make while campaigning. His plan also drastically lowers personal income tax rates, while ending popular tax credits and deductions that affect the middle class, such as the mortgage interest deduction and child tax credit.
But Huntsman's plan was short on specifics. He acknowledged it would be difficult to implement and described his proposals as essentially the first step. "You've got to start with a negotiating position," he said, noting that there was no specific analysis for the plan's cost or how taxpayers of different incomes would be affected.
He also pushed for new trade deals with Japan, India and Taiwan, in addition to those proposed by the Obama administration with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. And he called for repealing Obama's health care overhaul, "dramatically" reining in the Environmental Protection Agency and reforming the Food and Drug Administration's "ridiculous approval process."
Huntsman described his proposals as common sense, "not radical or revolutionary," and used the event at Gilchrist Metal Fabricating to draw distinctions between himself, Obama and the GOP field.
"The president believes that we can tax and spend and regulate our way to prosperity. We cannot. We must compete our way to prosperity," Huntsman said, flanked by a massive machine and offering no proof to his assertions about Obama. "We need American entrepreneurs not only thinking of products like the iPhone or Segway; we need American workers building those products. It's time for 'Made in America' to mean something again."
Huntsman, who promised to run a civil campaign, also slapped at his GOP competitors, saying: "Meeting our challenges will require serious solutions, but above all, it will require serious leadership — a quality in high demand in our nation's capital, and among my opponents on the campaign trail."
The location of the announcement and emphasis on American manufacturing prompted critics to challenge Huntsman's record at the Huntsman family business. Huntsman Corp., a chemical company, employs far more workers overseas than in the United States.
Huntsman's campaign conceded that fact, but said the jobs plan would improve the business climate in this nation and help Huntsman Corp. and other businesses hire more American workers.
That did little to quiet Democratic criticism.
"It's ironic that Huntsman is pushing 'Made in America' so hard when 'Made in China' has made him millions," said Ty Matsdorf, spokesman for American Bridge, a political group allied with Democrats. "Desperately flailing to gain any type of traction in the race, apparently he will try anything to breathe some much needed life into a floundering campaign."
And the labor union group known as the American Jobs Alliance issued a statement Wednesday afternoon assailing Huntsman's trade proposals, with spokesman Curtis Ellis saying: "The fatally flawed free-trade deals which Jon Huntsman supports will destroy jobs in the U.S., not create them."
Huntsman, who served as the Obama administration's ambassador to China, has fought to win over Republican primary voters since entering the race, despite assembling a huge staff in New Hampshire, which hosts the nation's first presidential primary.
He earned support from just 1 percent of Republicans in a CNN/ORC International survey released this week. That's down from 4 percent in early August.