New Hampshire start — or finish — for Huntsman

Published: Saturday, Jan. 7 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, accompanied by his wife Mary Kaye, stops to shake hands while touring businesses in downtown Nashua, N.H., Monday, Jan. 2, 2012.

Associated Press

Read an historical analysis of how New Hampshire can make or break a candidate's chances here. To revisit some of the most iconic moments of past New Hampshire campaigns, click here.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Just a few months ago, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. promised New Hampshire voters would be rallying around his presidential campaign, his first stop on the way to the White House.

"Keep your eyes on New Hampshire," Huntsman told reporters during a visit to Salt Lake City last October. "We're going to do great … I like our position. More than that, I like the way we're connecting with the people of New Hampshire."

He had reason then to be optimistic about Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, having already made the state the centerpiece of his campaign, skipping last week's Iowa caucus vote and even moving his headquarters here from Florida.

But despite his dedication to the second state to vote in the 2012 race for the GOP presidential nomination, Huntsman appears to be slipping in the polls, after barely breaking into the double-digits.

Mitt Romney, the other candidate in the race with Utah ties, continues to hold a substantial lead hovering around 40 percent going into the primary after eking out an extremely narrow victory in Iowa.

There had been much speculation about whether the former U.S. ambassador to China could pull off a victory in New Hampshire. Huntsman himself said recently if he comes in lower than third place, he'll reevaluate his campaign.

Now, though, the question seems to be how much longer he'll be in the race.

"Honestly, I think his chances are slim and none," said Matthew Wilson, a religion and politics professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"He's clearly chosen to put all his eggs in the New Hampshire basket," Wilson said. "I suspect Huntsman will do no better than fourth. There's a good likelihood he'll end up dropping out."

Wilson said because New Hampshire voters "like to see themselves as kingmakers, as really being decisive in determining the nominee, it seems to me unlikely that New Hampshire is going to go rogue" and offer Huntsman any real hope of going forward.

Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, agreed New Hampshire may well be Huntsman's first and last test in the race.

"It's hard to see how it's going to be otherwise," Scala said. "The momentum is going in the wrong direction."

Scala said there's likely to be little reason for Huntsman to continue as a candidate after Tuesday's primary. "I don't see the point," he said. "But Rick Perry is staying in. Candidates sometimes convince themselves to stay in."

Perry, the Texas governor, initially appeared ready to drop out after a poor showing in Iowa last week. But he's now said he'll move on to South Carolina. Another contender, Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, has already left the race.

But former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who almost beat Romney in Iowa, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who came in third there, are both coming on strong in New Hampshire. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich still has appeal to voters there, too.

Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa and a Republican activist, also said that Huntsman's chances of doing well enough in New Hampshire to continue don't look good.

"It looks like he's not getting that shot," Hagle said.

NBC chief political correspondent Chuck Todd said Huntsman isn't the focus of the hordes of media descending on New Hampshire.

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