Hunter makes GOP presidential bid official

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, best known for his advocacy on behalf of the military, launched a longshot bid for the presidency Thursday in this early voting state.

"Letís begin this race for the American presidency and letís win," Hunter, said, wrapping up 25 minute speech.

The 14-term conservative from California, who has made no secret of his White House aspirations, set up a presidential exploratory committee last week.

He initially announced his intentions in October, becoming the first GOP candidate to declare, and then began making stops in early primary and caucus states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

He joins an increasingly crowded GOP field of declared and likely candidates, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Sam Brownback of Kansas, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Hunter has been a familiar face on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon. Until Democrats took control of Congress this month, he was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the powerful panel that oversees military policy.

However, Hunter is little known outside of Congress and his San Diego district. He is a strong opponent of illegal immigration who wants fences extended along the U.S.-Mexico border and supports the prosecution of smugglers bringing illegal immigrants across the border.

Last week, Hunter fil ed a bill calling for a congressional pardon of two U.S. Border Patrol agents who are both serving more than a decade in prison for shooting a Mexican drug dealer as he fled, then covering up the crime.

In remarks before his speech, Hunter emphasized the importance of South Carolina in winning the GOP nomination.

"Nobody wins the presidency without winning South Carolina," Hunter said.

Hunter already has some deep-pocket allies in the state, including textile magnate Roger Milliken, who supports Hunterís promise to protect U.S. manufacturers threatened by cheap, overseas labor.

"Iím thrilled that heís running," said Milliken, who hasnít yet endorsed a presidential candidate. "This point of view he represents must be heard."

Hunter, 58, was born in Riverside, Calif., and was an Army Ranger in Vietnam. He worked his way through law school with farming and construction jobs.

Hunter won his U.S. House seat in 1980 and has been an ardent military supporter. His son has spent a pair of seven-month tours in Iraq.