ROCK HILL, S.C. -- For a guy lagging at 1 percent in most presidential polls, Jon Huntsman sounds improbably confident.
"I like our position as underdog," he said during a visit to Winthrop University today. "We're the most electable candidate in the field."
Speaking to an early morning audience of round 50, the former Utah governor sought to separate himself from the pack of GOP hopefuls who've paraded to this early primary state.
He said he hasn't signed "silly pledges" or sought the blessing of Donald Trump.
"I'm not going to light my hair on fire," he said. "Eventually we're going to get beyond the theatrics and the drama."
To get the nation out of its "funk," Huntsman promised to take three steps on his first day in the White House.
He would reform the tax code. He'd repeal President Obama's health care law as well as the Dodd-Frank financial reform and Sarbanes-Oxley accounting rules. And he would develop natural gas resources as a way to energy independence.
On taxes, Huntsman would reduce and flatten individual rates and drop the corporate rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. Lowering rates, he would also eliminate deductions. It would also broaden the tax base.
Huntsman introduced a version of a flat tax in Utah, where he shrank six tax brackets to a single 5 percent rate.
The Wall Street Journal called his plan "as impressive as any to date in the GOP presidential field, and certainly better than what we've seen from the front-runners." On Friday, it drew praise from Winthrop economics professor Laura Ullrich.
"You are the only candidate who has a tax policy that really makes sense," she told Huntsman.
Huntsman said tax changes would help rebuild America's "manufacturing muscle" and more it competitive with countries such as China, where he was U.S. ambassador under Obama.
Growing political and economic strains in China, he said, will push investors to look for an alternative.
"So if we're smart, this country will make ourselves that alternative."
One listener urged Huntsman to play up his China "trump card." The former ambassador to Singapore as well as Beijing speaks fluent Mandarin. Huntsman acknowledged his expertise, saying he has "cracked the code" on the rising Asian power.
"I'm not going to give an answer on their nuclear weapons like some other candidates," he said, a reference to rival Herman Cain's suggestion that China was still on its way to developing such weapons - which they've had since 1960s.
Huntsman also called for removing most U.S. troops from Afghanistan. "We can't afford, nor is it in our national security interests, to be the sheriff of the world," he said.
He also broke from party orthodoxy by calling for means-testing at least the top third of income earners for Social Security benefits, and raising the retirement age in the process.
For Dick McCoy, a retired pediatrician from Rock Hill, Huntsman stands out from the rest.
"We are looking for moderation (and) are very concerned about this extreme view so many people are taking," he said, adding that Huntsman might "break up the logjam" in Washington.