(CNN) – Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. Ambassador to China regarded by some Republicans as a potential white knight who could rescue an otherwise uninspiring 2012 field, is officially dipping his toe in the presidential campaign waters Thursday, set to begin a five-day venture consisting of old-fashioned retail politics in the key primary state of New Hampshire.
Huntsman - the onetime governor of Utah who recently returned from his post in China after he was tapped for the job by President Obama in 2009 - has scheduled 11 events in as many towns during his five-day swing, including appearances at several house parties, a VFW hall, gun shops and general stores, and a local library. The most high profile event will come Saturday when Huntsman delivers the commencement address at Southern New Hampshire University.
The initial foray will be closely watched by Republicans and political observers alike, some of whom question whether the attractive Huntsman who has been barely visible in the public spotlight can excite primary voters and adequately explain the fact he has been a member of the Obama administration for the last two years.
While Huntsman and his aides have already provided a justification – he was asked by the president to serve and said yes out of patriotic duty – it remains unclear if some voters who are eager for a fight with Obama will buy it.
Huntsman must also contend with a relatively moderate record that includes support for cap-and-trade legislation and same-sex civil unions, positions that don't sit well with many in the GOP base. But his stances may not pose as serious an obstacle in libertarian-friendly New Hampshire, where Republicans there have often parted ways with their more socially conservative colleagues in other early-voting states. Plus, Huntsman may be able to endear himself to fiscal conservatives and members of the Tea Party, having cut taxes as governor while maintaining a balanced budget.
But the former governor is armed with a string of attributes some Republicans feel much of the 2012 GOP field lacks, including a natural magnetism and charisma, successful executive experience, and bona fide foreign policy credentials. Also helping Huntsman's cause is the fact that he is a multi-millionaire who could tap into broad fundraising network and possibly self fund his campaign.
Huntsman and his aides have floated the possibility of running for president for months, though in the weeks since returning from China it quickly became apparent the former governor is more likely than not to mount a White House bid.
The former Utah governor has already traveled to South Carolina – another key primary state - to meet with Nikki Haley, the state's popular GOP governor, and with other Republican lawmakers, strategists and activists. He also gave a commencement speech at the University of South Carolina.
He's also signed up key campaign advisors and a Republican source told CNN Tuesday that aides have already planned to base the campaign out of Orlando, Florida, state traditional swing state viewed as one of the biggest prizes in the presidential primary calendar.