HAMPSTEAD, N.H. — Wearing a worn leather jacket from his time as Utah's governor, Jon Huntsman Jr. jumped up on the counter of the tiny Bean Towne coffee house Sunday afternoon to address a crowd of supporters that spilled into the parking lot.
"They say this state loves an underdog. Ladies and gentlemen, here is your underdog," Huntsman told the cheering crowd. "There's not going to be a coronation, folks. There's not going to be an establishment-anointed candidate who all of a sudden steps in."
With Tuesday's presidential primary fast approaching, Huntsman touted new polls that show him closing in on second place behind the other candidate in the race with Utah ties, Mitt Romney.
"Get out there and get energized," Huntsman urged his supporters, promising a "Grateful Dead tour" of the country to bring about term limits for Congress, ethics reform and other changes he said will make the country better for the next generation.
"Thank you," shouted Alyson Sandler, a political science major at a university in Chicago home for the holidays. Sandler said she considers herself an independent but is "intrigued" by Huntsman.
"I wasn't planning on voting in the Republican primary. I am now," she said.
Sandler said she might even vote GOP again in November, even though she volunteered in 2008 for then-candidate Barack Obama, a Democrat.
"If Jon Huntsman was the nominee, it would be a tough decision. If Mitt Romney wins, I will vote for Obama," Sandler said.
Another young voter from the small town, Nicholas Delcore, said he was leaning toward Huntsman.
"I do think he has the credentials, the strong resume," Delcore said. "He has the presidential feel about him."
Outside the coffee house that has also hosted former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain and Romney's wife, Ann, Huntsman told dozens of reporters that crowded around him that he expects to win Tuesday.
"Who's settling for No. 2? That's nonsense," Huntsman said. "All of the pundits love to say what the world's going to look like on Tuesday night. But you know what? We're going to arrive Tuesday night, and we're going to find there's a different reality."
Even Huntsman's longtime supporters in Utah have used words like "miracle" to describe what it would take for him to have a strong enough showing in New Hampshire to go forward in the race.
But Huntsman said he felt a surge of support before getting behind the wheel of one of his campaign's SUVs and driving away, to the amazement of some of the national media following him.
"He's driving himself," several reporters shouted.
Michele Johnston of Chester and her son, Alex, 13, couldnt squeeze into the coffee house but caught a glimpse of Huntsman. Alex Johnston said he liked Huntsmans jacket, embroidered with his former title, governor, and the Utah state seal.
"I thought that was pretty cool," Alex Johnston said.
His mother said she's been impressed by Huntsman's three oldest daughters, who have been campaigning using Twitter and YouTube, as well as traditional media appearances.
"I figured anyone who could raise children like that … I can't imagine he'd make a bad president," Michele Johnston said, adding she is undecided but won't vote for Romney because he"s "too big business and too much of a politician."
Earlier this morning, sparks flew between Huntsman and Romney in the final debate before the primary.
Huntsman first brought up Romney's recent criticism of Huntsman serving as U.S. ambassador to China under President Obama.
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