In 2004, Huntsman secured the governorship in solidly conservative Utah, and was re-elected in 2008 with more than 75 percent of the vote. As governor, he accepted stimulus monies, supported legislation to deal with climate change and backed civil unions for gay couples, a position Huntsman has adamantly defended since.
Huntsman resigned his governorship in 2009 when Obama, noting his experience in the region and his language proficiency, tapped him to serve as his ambassador to China. After serving two years in his diplomatic post, Huntsman submitted a letter of resignation in February, making his departure effective April 30, 2011.
Huntsman has indicated his late entry into the race and relative anonymity among Republican voters will, in the end, work to his advantage. Huntsman has said in the past he believes his experience as governor, foreign dignitary and private sector businessman trumps any controversy generated around past positions he's held on gay marriage, cap and trade, the stimulus or a health care mandate.
In a blast email to supporters Huntsman sent before making his announcement, Huntsman made clear his campaign would embrace the mantle of Republican outsider.
"You'll hear things you won't be hearing from any other campaign," he said in the email. "Our campaign is different. Our ideas are different. Our results will bring America back to the top."
After he concluded his remarks, Huntsman boarded a press-filled plane headed to Exeter, N.H. In coming weeks, his campaign has stops scheduled in Florida, South Carolina, Utah, California, Texas and elsewhere.
-ABC News' Sarah Kunin contributed to this report.