ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ahead of a conservative summit that was expected to draw the Republican presidential contenders, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman on Friday prepared to warn activists that purity tests would only give President Barack Obama a second term.
Huntsman, who served as the Obama administration's ambassador to China, said Republicans need to do a better job pitching the party's core principals such as lower taxes and fewer regulations. He added that a candidate who agrees with a voter more often than not is still worth consideration.
"President Obama's only hope for re-election is if we fail to broaden our appeal," Huntsman said in remarks prepared for delivery and provided to The Associated Press.
Trailing badly in national polls, Huntsman's assessment was unlikely to mirror his better known rivals' message to this meeting of conservatives who hold great sway in picking the GOP's nominee. During a Thursday forum and then a debate, the candidates pitched themselves to party activists. The courtship continued with an all-day forum here on Friday and then a nonbinding early test vote on Saturday.
"Every four years, conservatives are told that we have to settle, and it's anybody but Obama. That's what we're hearing this year," Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said during Thursday's debate. "I don't think that's true."
Instead, the tea party favorite urged religious conservatives to step up and get involved.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, too, has been working to woo the conservatives. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, making his second presidential bid, has been touting his experience as a businessman in the hopes conservatives view Perry's decades in government a disqualifying factor.
Perry and Romney, the GOP's front runners for the nomination, have spent the last week trading barbs over their records on Social Security, climate change and immigration with each trying to outflank the other from the right.
Hoping to get in the mix, Huntsman's remarks directly took on Perry's skepticism about humans' role in climate change and dinged Romney's criticism of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
"I believe in science, including as it relates to evolution and climate change," said Huntsman, whose position on civil unions for gay couples and climate change puts him out of the conservative mainstream. "I believe immigration is a human as well as an economic issue, and that children of illegal immigrants shouldn't be punished for the sins of their parents."
Trying to rally conservatives behind his trailing presidential bid, Huntsman said "this is our election to lose."
"We have the economics on our side. We have the solutions on our side. We have the vision on our side," he said. "Now we just need to get the people on our side."