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Jon Huntsman: Third place finish in New Hampshire primary is 'a ticket to ride'

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 11 2012 9:38 a.m. MST

MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 10: Republican presidential candidate and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman takes the stage with his family during a primary night rally at the Black Brimmer restaurant on January 10, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. According to early results, Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses to campaign in New Hampshire, finished third behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) in the first in the nation primary election. (Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

Matthew Cavanaugh, Getty Images

» View our political blog, with live updates and analysis of the New Hampshire primary.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Jon Huntsman Jr. called his third-place finish Tuesday in the nation's first presidential primary "a ticket to ride" on to South Carolina, the next state to vote in the race for the GOP nomination.

His campaign had hoped that Huntsman could come in a close second behind primary winner Mitt Romney, the other candidate in the race with Utah ties.

Instead, Huntsman trailed both Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich was fourth.

In a fundraising email sent early Wednesday, Huntsman said he's hitting "the ground running" in South Carolina. "Then it's off to Florida and beyond. There's a long way to go, but we're confident that our message and our momentum from (Tuesday's election) will continue into South Carolina."

Dave Woodard, a politicial science professor at Clemson University and a South Carolina pollster, wasn't so sure.

"It's a ticket to ride for Jon Huntsman. It's a freight train for Mitt Romney," Woodard said of the New Hampshire primary results. "We'll see what happens down here."

Huntsman had a welcome event scheduled at the Columbia, S.C., airport midday Wednesday, but Woodard said he may have difficulties attracting a crowd because four other candidates are also campaigning in the state capital.

Tuesday, flanked by his parents, his wife, and his three oldest daughters, Huntsman tried to sound upbeat as he told a crowd gathered at the Black Brimmer bar and grill in downtown Manchester, "We're in the hunt!"

But missing from his speech was the enthusiasm of the past few days, when an uptick in the polls drew bigger crowds and more media to his public appearances and allowed Huntsman to finally claim momentum in the race.

There were cheers and chants from the crowd at the bar and grill, but the event fell short of the send-off Huntsman received at his final campaign rally held at the Exeter town hall Monday night, where there were more people, more noise and even more confetti.

"Huntsman put the best face on it he could," said University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala. "But it's a big disappointment."

Scala said he did not expect Huntsman to continue his candidacy.

"Candidates say a lot of things on election night that they think over," he said.

Tim Baines, a bank branch manager, said he also believed Huntsman would drop out of the race.

Baines, an independent, said he'd voted for a Democrat four years ago, President Barack Obama, but this time cast his ballot for Huntsman. 

"There's something enticing about him as a person. He leaves the rhetoric at the door,  doesn't say the inflammatory things that a lot of the other candidates do, and certainly has a great record of leading in Utah," Baines said.

He said even though he was undecided about voting again for Obama, Huntsman was the only Republican he could back.

Scala said Huntsman succeeded in attracting independents and Democrats who switched their party affiliation to vote in the GOP primary. But, he said, Huntsman failed to woo more than a small percentage of Republicans.

"You can't win the nomination if you can't win over the people in your own party," Scala said. "I don't know where you go with that."

Huntsman had staked his campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire, skipping last week's Iowa caucus votes and even moving his headquarters from Florida to downtown Manchester.

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