JERSEY CITY, New Jersey, June 21, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Wielding a polished image and an appetite to woo conservatives, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. emerged onto the GOP 2012 scene Tuesday, launching a presidential campaign that is titillating the moderate Republican establishment - but leaving the political right doubtful about a candidate centrist enough to win a post in the Obama administration.

The wealthy, moderate, nominal Mormon candidate sports a far cleaner pro-life record than rival Mitt Romney, who shares a similar background and from whom Huntsman has taken pains to distinguish himself. But Huntsman’s more conservative Republican rivals instantly compared the two after Huntsman was accused of also refusing to sign a pro-life pledge proposed by the Susan B. Anthony List.

Appearing with the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop, a deliberate throwback to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign launch, Huntsman on Tuesday morning announced that he would add his lot to the growing crowd of GOP presidential contenders. Hunstman took the opportunity to decry the nation’s deficit and unwieldy entitlement costs, but also made a point of dealing gently with his potential rival and former employer, President Obama.

“He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love,” he told a crowd of about 100. “But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who’s the better American.”

On right to life issues, Huntsman has made that difference of opinion clear: earlier this month, Hunstman flexed his pro-life credentials at the Faith and Freedom Conference, where he won accolades for his voting history and personal family ethic. The father of seven told the story of his two adopted daughters, one from China and one from India, and insisted that the value of “a child’s life” should always trump politics.

“Although you would not know it in this town, there is something more essential than politics, and that’s life, especially a child’s life,” he said. He added, “As governor of Utah, I supported and signed every pro-life bill that came to my desk,” including parental consent, informed consent, and late-term abortion ban laws.

“I do not believe we should focus only on our economic life to the neglect of human life. That is a trade we should not make,” Huntsman said. “If Republicans ignore life, the deficit we will face is one that is much more destructive. It will be a deficit of the heart and the soul.”

But the candidate’s pro-life image hit a snag this week after Huntsman was caught up in the controversy surrounding a pro-life pledge offered to Republican candidates by the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List. Mitt Romney had refused to sign the strongly-worded pledge, unlike several other pro-life GOP candidates, who questioned the solidity of Romney’s excuses.

On the same day as Huntsman announced his campaign, Republican candidate Sen. Rick Santorum fired off a parody of one of Hunstman’s campaign ads, featuring footage of a dirt bike rider, to showcase the new candidate’s failure to sign the document. “[Huntsman] hasn’t signed the anti-abortion pledge. Just like Mitt Romney…” reads the ad, which shows the biker careening gracelessly into a sand dune.

However, SBA List had not mentioned Huntsman in last week’s list of those rejecting the pledge, and said they would offer him a chance to sign now that he has announced his campaign. But a spokesperson for Huntsman appears to have already dismissed the pledge, telling CNN in response to the Santorum ad that “people who rely on pledges usually don’t have a record.”

SBA List spokesperson Ciara Matthews told LifeSiteNews.com that a hard copy of the pledge had been sent by overnight mail to Huntsman, who has a week to sign it.

The candidate also faces possible tension among pro-family conservatives: while opposing same-sex “marriage,” Huntsman supports homosexual civil unions and enjoys a reputation as friendly to the gay rights cause.

“I’ve always been in favor of greater equality,” he told Politico in a 2009 interview.

A close friend of Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, Huntsman served as governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009 before he accepted a position as ambassador to China under President Obama.

Some regarded the appointment as an attempt by the administration to keep Hunstman out of the presidential limelight. However, conservative pundits say the former ambassador’s prospects have been vastly inflated by leftist media and excoriated the moderate - who once called Obama’s stimulus bill “not large enough” - for posturing as a right-wing candidate in the mold of Ronald Reagan.

“Reagan certainly wouldn’t have arranged a photo-op with and publicly praised Henry Kissinger just days before announcing his candidacy,” wrote Craig Shirley and Bill Pascoe of the Daily Caller. Politico noted that Fox News was the first major network Tuesday to cut off coverage of Huntsman mid-speech.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh complained that the rising star of conservative Texas governor Rick Perry has been damaged by too much attention paid to Huntsman, who has been praised by GOP strategists such as former McCain campaign chief John Weaver as a step closer to, in the words of Newsweek, the party’s “forward-thinking moderates.”