Huntsman banks on New Hampshire

By Lesley Clark

McClatchy Newspapers

Published: Thursday, Oct. 13 2011 8:00 p.m. MDT

But Huntsman has failed to make deep inroads. He didn't make a strong impression during the New Hampshire debate last week. His quotes made it into the Manchester Union Leader, the state's largest newspaper, but only for his pizza dig at the 9-9-9 economic plan championed by Herman Cain, who in recent weeks has surged ahead of Huntsman in the state, as elsewhere.

"You make a little joke like that and you find out the next morning the headline coming out of the debate is not the substance of economics or foreign policy; it's the pizza comment," Huntsman wryly told an audience at Keene State College, one of the town hall meetings he's held across the state, meeting with small groups and practicing the retail politics that voters here prefer.

His low profile discourages supporters, who say he's a solid, serious candidate who could find traction if he were better known.

"The press is only interested in the internal squabbles, Romney and Perry, who's up and who's down," said state Rep. Julie Brown. The Rochester Republican endorsed social conservative Mike Huckabee in 2008, but she cites the economy as her chief concern now, and is backing Huntsman.

"Look at his record in Utah," she said. "He knows what he's doing."

Romney, she said, "governs by putting his finger in the air. I'm not sure we can trust him."

Many GOP voters who've yet to settle on a presidential candidate say they want someone more conservative than Romney, and Huntsman, who served as Obama's ambassador to China, doesn't fit the bill.

"Huntsman's just too close to the Obama administration, "said state Rep. John Reagan, R-Deerfield. "He didn't just get that job because he speaks Chinese; I've got to believe there are deeper ties there."

Huntsman acknowledges at most campaign stops that his ambassadorship to China creates a "roadblock" and that there are Republicans who say, " 'No way, no how, I'm ever going to vote for that guy.'

"I believe that when your country asks you to step up and serve, you serve," he said.

Huntsman hasn't yet put up any campaign ads in New Hampshire, and he declined last week to talk about financing or campaign strategy with reporters. Huntsman has already put $2 million of his own money into the campaign.

Supporters have set up a so-called super PAC to promote his campaign, but it has yet to get engaged in the race. Huntsman wouldn't say whether his wealthy father — who invented the clamshell packaging that McDonald's uses — would contribute.

"I don't have say over super PACs," he said of the fundraising groups that can spend unrestricted dollars but are required by law to be independent of campaigns.

He said he didn't know whether his own campaign would put up ads anytime soon, but that he'd keep campaigning, along with his wife and children.

"Our strategy is to win votes. Votes win elections in New Hampshire, and that's where I'm focused," he said. "You can differentiate yourself — that will have to be done — but voters want to know what's in your heart, what you think about where this country should go. ... Wherever we go, that's what we're hearing from people."

(c)2011 the McClatchy Washington Bureau Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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