RENO, Nev. — Former Utah Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman campaigned in neighboring Nevada on Friday, saying he doesn't believe his Mormon faith will be an issue in his bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
"Nor should it be," Huntsman told reporters in Reno. "I'm not running for guru here."
Three days after formally announcing his candidacy, the former ambassador to China said his list of priority states includes the early caucus swing state of Nevada, where Republicans sided with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2008.
Romney also is Mormon. So is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who said earlier this week he'd pick Huntsman over Romney if he had to. Polls show many voters have reservations about electing a Mormon president.
"I don't think it will be down religious lines," Huntsman said during an hour-long stop at the Reno Livestock Events Center before the start of the Reno Rodeo. "I think it will be down to issue lines and who has a track record, who has a world view that will get us where this country needs to be."
Huntsman met earlier Friday with Washoe County GOP leaders and had lunch with Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell — a Republican who voted for Reid last election — and a number of local business officials.
Huntsman said contrary to conventional wisdom, he doesn't believe Romney has Nevada locked up.
"Yes, some might have a head start in terms of fundraising and name recognition," he said. "But given the nature of the media market and our ability to network with social media tools, you can overcome any gap like that over time."
Nevada's presidential caucuses are set for Feb. 18, after Iowa and New Hampshire get their turns and before South Carolina picks its favorite candidate.
In announcing his candidacy Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Huntsman stressed his record as governor of Utah, where he won praise from conservative groups for cutting taxes and recruiting new business to the state. He served as governor from 2005 to early 2009, when Obama offered him the China post. He resigned that position in April.
During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Democratic leaders in Utah and Nevada joined together to criticize what they said was Huntsman's apparent move to the right on issues such as taxes, health care and the environment to court conservatives GOPs in the primary after developing a reputation as more of a moderate.
"We were looking forward to a campaign of ideas and having a moderate Republican in the race," Utah Democratic Party chairman Wayne Holland said. "Instead we've seen pandering that is disappointing."
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