Washington (CNN) – Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman made a generational appeal to nearly 300 college Republicans Friday, pledging to create jobs for recent graduates struggling to find work in the slumping economy.
“I don't want you to become disillusioned,” said Huntsman, who keynoted the Lee Atwater Gala at the biennial convention of the College Republican National Committee. “I want you to believe in the system. Your generation is going to be part of the fix.”
The former Utah governor blamed President Barack Obama for creating a huge budget hole and failing to change the culture of Washington, leaving younger Americans "saddled with debt" but still searching for employment.
He chided the president for not offering a plan to raise the federal debt ceiling while cutting spending, leaving the country in a perilous economic position.
“The most powerful nation in the history of the world is just days away from default,” he said, and President Obama is offering little more than “regurgitated DNC talking points."
Huntsman has embraced House Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling proposal, which narrowly passed a House vote on Friday evening but was dead on arrival in the Senate. The deadline for raising the debt ceiling is Tuesday.
The Boehner plan would allow for short-term increase in the country’s borrowing limit but would peg a future increase to a Balanced Budget Amendment.
Even with that budget framework essentially dead, Huntsman criticized his Republican opponents for not taking a firm position on the debate that has consumed Washington for weeks.
“My fellow candidates, and I love them all, aren’t offering any realistic solutions or are ducking the debate entirely,” he said. “A leader is not someone who sits on the sidelines during a debate of monumental consequences for our future.”
Since entering the GOP race in June, Huntsman, 51, has tried to position himself as a younger, hipper kind of Republican by highlighting his enthusiasm for motocross, rock music and food trucks.
On Friday, he brought along four of his telegenic daughters - Mary Anne, Elizabeth, Abby and Gracie Mei - to help him make his pitch to the audience of 20-somethings who were gathered in a Dupont Circle hotel for the convention.
But at times, Huntsman strained to connect with the younger crowd. He made a reference to the “the Google” and at one point warned that “you’ve got to be careful what you say on the Twitter.”
In a separate room where an overflow audience of students viewed the speech remotely, Huntsman drew snickers when he criticized the president’s economic record with an awkward play on words.
“We are in a funk, and I am not talking about the musical variety, I am talking about the economic variety,” he said, eliciting uncomfortable murmurs and eye-rolls.