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New Hampshire start — or finish — for Huntsman

Published: Saturday, Jan. 7 2012 3:43 p.m. MST

"The story's going to be Romney versus Santorum, and I'm not sure Huntsman is going to be able to get in that story line. It's going to be tough for him," Todd said. "This is it for him. It's do or die."

Even Huntsman's strongest supporters in Utah seem resigned to the campaign wrapping up.

"I think he's done," said Salt Lake advertising executive Tom Love, a longtime Huntsman friend and supporter. "He gambled. He got in the game and he put all his chips in New Hampshire."

Another Huntsman ally, Lew Cramer, the head of the World Trade Center Utah, said he's hoping for an outbreak of "upset fever" in New Hampshire.

"I'm hoping for a miracle," Cramer said. "I know that the governor is scheduling finance breakfasts and fund-raisers through January, so there's some optimism here."

Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said the candidate "is outworking everyone in New Hampshire, spreading his message of restoring trust in Washington and reviving our economy.

"We expect to compete strongly here next week and move on to South Carolina where we have a strong ground game ready to activate."

Peter Spaulding, a top Huntsman adviser in New Hampshire, said the campaign is "very upbeat" and confident Huntsman will meet his goal of being among the top three finishers Tuesday.

The campaign is cobbling together support from independents in New Hampshire — who are able to vote in the GOP primary — a group, Spaudling said, includes both liberals and conservatives.

Paul is said to be competing for the same voters, but Spaulding said he believes fewer are leaning toward Paul's libertarian message. "For the most part, there are a lot of potential votes for Gov. Huntsman in the undeclareds."

A bigger issue for Huntsman may be that he's competing for the state's moderate voters with Romney.

Huntsman has tried to sell himself "as a more moderate version of Mitt Romney, more civil, more bipartisan, kinder and gentler toward President Obama," Scala said.

Voters may not be buying it, though.

"New Hampshire Republicans, they are a bit more moderate than Iowa Republicans," Scala said. "But they don't seem to be in the mood for that type of candidate."

And Romney's win in Iowa, however small, has left Huntsman unable "to say this week that Romney is a weak candidate who can't win the nomination of the party," Scala said.

By skipping Iowa, Scala said Huntsman likely alienated socially conservative voters who play a key role in the party by in effect telling them, "I can't talk to you people."

Yet, he said, Huntsman holds appeal for conservatives. "He seemed to box himself in early on and he could never figure a way out of the box," Scala said.

Wilson also questioned Huntsman's shift to the center.

"His ideological deviation from Republican orthodoxy, interestingly, has been one of style," Wilson said. "He's almost taken pleasure in putting a thumb in the eye of ideological conservatives … (but) this guy would not have been elected governor of Utah if he was some sort of left-wing renegade."

Hagle said Huntsman may have a more fundamental problem attracting support.

"There's no passion there. It's all very low key," Hagle said. "I'm not so convinced he doesn't mean what he says, but that he's willing to get behind it."

Huntsman's supporters blame his ties to the Democratic president. It was President Barack Obama who named Huntsman the U.S. ambassador to China in 2009, a posting he left only last year.

"The biggest problem is that the hard-core Republicans in the party couldn't get past the fact that he worked for Obama," Love said. "I think everyone understands that this was the big problem."

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