PITTSFIELD, N.H. — As the GOP presidential race heated up in New Hampshire, Jon Huntsman toured a company that makes firefighting suits, where he touted one of his key endorsements and dismissed front-runner Mitt Romney's latest catch.
Huntsman was joined at Globe Manufacturing by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who noticed the Romney signs dotting the roads and took issue with their slogan "Believe in America."
"All Republican candidates, and even President Obama, believe in America," Ridge said. "The question is, who do we want to lead America? Who's the principled leader we can trust?"
Though Huntsman was happy to tout Ridge's endorsement, he told reporters that "nobody cares" about Sen. John McCain's endorsement of Romney. Huntsman backed McCain's 2008 presidential bid and campaigned for him in New Hampshire in 2007.
"I have great regard for Sen. McCain. I love the man. But it's another example of the establishment piling on. And it seems the more the establishment piles on — (Bob) Dole, McCain, all the rest — nobody cares," Huntsman said.
"None of the endorsements Romney's picked up have meant a thing in terms of how people respond, because people are looking for a new generation of leadership," he said.
Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, has been hoping to follow in the footsteps of McCain, who won the 2000 and 2008 New Hampshire primaries after skipping Iowa's contest. He calls himself the underdog, and insists New Hampshire voters love underdogs.
"They always reward the candidate who's in this state shaking hands, having the town hall meetings," Huntsman said. "That's what we've been doing for months and months."
But he could end up more like Democrats Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman who both skipped Iowa in 2004 only to end up disappointed in New Hampshire, finishing a distant third and fifth, respectively.
Kevin Fortier, sales manager at Globe Manufacturing, said he was particularly taken with Huntsman's promise to tackle tough issues, such as term limits for members of Congress, even if meant being a one-term president.
Huntsman said the main takeaway from Romney's narrow win in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses was that Republican voters are deeply unsettled.
"That means there's a whole lot of blue sky for the rest of us in the race," he said.