U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, officially announced his intention to explore a bid to become the Republican nominee for president of the United States in 2008 during a press conference this morning.

“This is going to be a long road, it’s a challenging road, there’s going to be some rough and tumble,” Hunter said, standing on the Broadway Navy Pier with the U.S.S Midway in the background. “But I think it’s the right thing to do for our country.”

Under federal election law, today’s announcement allows the 13-term congressman to begin campaign and fund raising activities in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and other presidential primary states.

Hunter, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said he plans to carry a message of a strong national defense and a strong border into the presidential campaign.

Hunter, who is heavily favored to win reelection in California’s 52nd District next week, said he consulted his father and friends but not the GOP leadership before making his decision. The timing of Hunter’s announcement, eight days before the mid-term election, came as a surprise to many in his own party.

Hunter is likely to face Arizona Sen. John McCain, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and others in the race for the Republican nomination.

Hunter lauded McCain as a “fine guy” but took a crack at the Massachusetts governor:

“As I have been building the border fence I haven’t seen Mr. Romney down there.”

U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz, was on hand to offer Hunter his first endorsement.

At times, the congressman sounded like a party cheerleader, rallying the troops before heading in to what is expected to be a very tough election for Republican’s next week.

“Peace through strength is the mark of the Republican Party and every voter in America needs to remember that next Tuesday,” Hunter said, referencing the Cold War and crediting President Bush for his aggressive pursuit of terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hunter also repeatedly insisted that Republicans will retain control of the House, allowing him to maintain his chairmanship.

“Make no mistake about it; I’m going to be chair of the House Armed Services Committee for the next two years as a Republican,” he said.


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