Yet despite holding nearly 170 events throughout the state, he was never a favorite to win here.
NBC's chief political correspondent, Chuck Todd, said Tuesday's results hurt Huntsman.
"It's going to be a tough battle for Jon Huntsman," Todd said. "He lived here. He planted a flag here, and he finished third."
GOP pollster Frank Luntz told the Deseret News that the No. 3 finish gives Huntsman's campaign "permission to go on to South Carolina. They wanted a rocket boost with second place. They did well enough."
His recent rise in the polls helped convince at least one voter to stick with Huntsman.
Donald Byrne, a software executive, had said days ago he was having second thoughts about Huntsman because he seemed like too much of a long shot. But Byrne said Tuesday he cast his vote for Huntsman.
"I was teetering toward Gingrich," Byrne said, until Huntsman's numbers started climbing.
"You want to cast your vote for a winner," he said, acknowledging Huntsman would have trouble with voters in South Carolina. "Maybe we can give him a boost. Maybe we can tell them to at least take a look at this guy. If you look at him, you're going to like him."
Tony Trubiaro, a salesman, grabbed Huntsman for a hug when he spotted him in a hotel lobby before the election results were in. "Make it happen," Trubiaro told Huntsman.
Trubiaro said he didn't vote for Romney, "because he's going to win this thing anyway. Let's see how far (Huntsman) can go. His passion and energy — I really like this guy."
There was no shortage of excitement surrounding Tuesday's primary. Voters at a school near downtown were separated by barricades from the hordes of reporters and candidate supporters gathered outside.
The Webster Elementary School was the site of visits by several candidates throughout Tuesday morning, including Huntsman, who walked up and down one of the sectioned-off areas, answering questions from reporters.
Meanwhile, Romney supporters in the crowd were yelling, "Go, Mitt, go," over and over, while the Huntsman backers strained to get a look at the candidate. Dressed in a red parka, with his wife, Mary Kaye, at his side, Huntsman looked relatively relaxed.
His staff said he was in an upbeat mood, following several days rising in the polls.
Josh Sacks, an IT consultant from Arlington, Va., who took vacation time to volunteer for Huntsman in New Hampshire, said he's excited to see the results of today's GOP primary election.
"I think he's going to be surprising a lot of people tonight," Sacks said, predicting "a strong second place" finish for Huntsman.
Sacks said he joined the campaign because he believes Huntsman is "the only candidate with the experience and intellect to get us out of the hole we're in."
Some of the voters at the polling site simply shook their heads and hurried by the assembled television cameras and journalists as Manchester police — including two officers on horseback — kept the pathways to the polls clear.
"I think this is expected," Jessica Gilcrest, a school librarian, said about the circus-like atmosphere. "People get passionate about what they believe in. There's nothing wrong with that."
Gilcrest decined to say who she voted for, but said she told her two young children accompanying her that "it's our responsiblity to pick a leader." The toddlers, however, appeared more interested in the police horses.
Eleanor Dunfey, however, had no problem telling reporters she voted in the Democratic primary even though President Barack Obama faces no opposition for his party's nomination.
Dunfey said she never considered voting in the GOP primary but did like Huntsman after seeing him speak at the Southern New Hampshire University commencement, where she is a professor of business ethics.
"I respect him. The rest of (the Republican field), I've been disturbed by the lack of substance," Dunfey said. "I don't think the focus is on the serious issues of the world."
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