GREER, S.C. -- Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who would like to be the Republican nominee in the White House race, said Monday he's not about to sign the spending limit pledge that a South Carolina senator has turned into a threshold test for 2012 presidential hopefuls seeking his support.
The Cut, Cap and Balance pledge has been gaining political clout. Eight GOP presidential candidates have signed it, as have four governors, 12 U.S. senators and 35 House members.
Sen. Jim DeMint, a Tea Party favorite whose endorsement would be influential in the first-in-the-South primary here, has pointedly noted Huntsman and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann have not signed on.
Huntsman said he told DeMint he's against pledges like that. The pledge says spending cuts are needed to lower the deficit and capped to balance the budget while Congress and the states approve a constitutional amendment requiring balanced budgets.
"I don't sign pledges -- other than the Pledge of Allegiance and a pledge to my wife," Huntsman said. He says he told DeMint: "You just have to understand that's where I come down."
But Huntsman also told the crowd of nearly 200 packed into a restaurant here that a balanced budget is essential.
"It is the most important safeguard we have against the run-ups in spending. And we need to make sure that we have a president in office who is going to birddog over the next couple of years the process that will allow us to get a balanced budget amendment in place," Huntsman said.
And Huntsman tapped another topic that blew out of South Carolina: the National Labor Relations Board lawsuit against Boeing Co. The NLRB claims that the company retaliated against union workers with a decision to build an assembly facility in North Charleston.
"We need a Boeing without NLRB making a mockery of the free-market system," Huntsman said, drawing a robust response from the crowd.
Huntsman, who was appointed ambassador to China by President Barack Obama and stepped down in April, also touched on foreign policy.
After a decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and months of supporting NATO's role in Libya, Huntsman said it's time for the U.S. to pay attention to domestic matters.
"We have fought the good fight in Afghanistan," he said. "Only Afghanistan can solve Afghanistan. We can't want them to have a country more than they want to have a country. And I'm here to tell you that we need to make sure Americans take care of America at this point in our history."
Huntsman is on a two-day swing through the state and will make an endorsement announcement today.