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Huntsman cuts back to focus on New Hampshire

By Jeff Zeleny

New York Times News Service

Published: Thursday, Sept. 29 2011 11:49 p.m. MDT

Republican 2012 presidential hopeful, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, second from left, enters Joey's Diner in Amherst, N.H., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, for a meet and greet with potential supporters.

Associated Press

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When Jon M. Huntsman Jr. began his Republican presidential bid, he opened his office in Florida to signal that his campaign would be a national effort. Four months later, a lack of money has forced a reversal: He is shuttering his headquarters to focus solely on the New Hampshire primary.

The Huntsman campaign, seeking to get ahead of a grim fundraising report at the end of the third quarter, said Thursday that it was scaling back its operation and moving from Orlando, Fla., to Manchester, N.H., as part of what advisers called a "course correction." Donors urged Huntsman to make the change to salvage his candidacy.

It is the latest in a series of major campaign adjustments for Huntsman, a former Utah governor who has struggled to gain traction in the Republican nominating contest. The decision, which was delivered to staff members Thursday afternoon, is a nod to the political reality facing his candidacy.

"This move will ensure that we have the resources necessary to win the first-in-the-nation primary," said Matt David, the campaign manager for Huntsman. "Success in New Hampshire is vital for our campaign to have the momentum we need to succeed in South Carolina, Florida and the states that follow."

The changes were an acknowledgment that the only plausible way forward for Huntsman is to focus entirely on New Hampshire, where he has shown movement in recent polls, while Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and other candidates compete in multiple places.

Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China in the Obama administration, is trying to capitalize on the unsettled fight in the Republican nominating contest.

He is seeking to present himself as a leading voice on foreign policy who has advocated for a swift end to the war in Afghanistan, as well as trying to distinguish himself as a moderate in a field that has tilted toward the right of the political spectrum. He is directing his message at moderate and Republican voters in New Hampshire.

It is the latest change in Huntsman's focus. He has shifted his message — giving up on his early plan of being a candidate of civility — to try to appear as a voice of reason amid the sharp exchanges among his rivals.

He has struggled to raise money and has been forced to keep the campaign afloat through his personal finances, including a $500,000 investment this month to help cover routine expenses.

Contributors have expressed a deep concern that the campaign is spending far in excess of its bleak fundraising capabilities. A Washington office, which operated in addition to the Orlando office, has already been closed. The Manchester office will open next month. A smaller office will remain in Florida but will be in Coral Gables.

Huntsman, in a television interview this week, signaled the change.

"We're going to focus singularly on New Hampshire," Huntsman told the MSNBC program "Morning Joe." "That is not an overly expensive market. That is a market where the old Adlai Stevenson shoe leather is important."

While Huntsman has struggled to keep pace with his rivals, his allies in an unaffiliated Super PAC have yet to weigh in. Discussions are under way to start advertising soon in New Hampshire, which could help his flagging efforts in the state.

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