U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter made his Republican presidential bid official Thursday in the early voting state of South Carolina.

"Let's begin this race for the American presidency and let's win," Hunter said, wrapping up 25 minute speech.

Before the speech, Hunter said South Carolina "is the heartland of what I call the arsenal of democracy." The Spartanburg area played a key role in textile products for the military in two world wars, but that manufacturing base is going away, Hunter said.

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

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The 14-term conservative from California set up his exploratory committee last week for his long-shot presidential bid.

Hunter has made no secret of his White House aspirations. He announced his intentions in October, becoming the first GOP candidate to declare, and then began making stops in early primary states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Little known outside of Congress and his San Diego district, Hunter can use the exposure. He is a strong foe of illegal immigration, an issue that plays well in South Carolina, which has some of the nation's lowest wages as well as one of the country's highest jobless rates as manufacturing jobs leave the state.

Hunter already has some deep-pocket allies in South Carolina, including textile magnate Roger Milliken, who supports Hunter's promise to protect U.S. manufacturers.

"I'm thrilled that he's running," said Milliken, who hasn't yet endorsed a presidential candidate. "This point of view he represents must be heard."

Hunter also wants fences extended along the U.S.-Mexico border and supports the prosecution of smugglers bringing illegal immigrants across the border.

Hunter 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, serving as House Armed Services Committee chairman until Republicans lost control of Congress in November's elections. His son has spent a pair of seven-month tours in Iraq.