In N.H., Huntsman Gathers A Smaller, But Hopeful Crowd

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CLICK TO ENLARGE: A look at Rochester, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

CLICK TO ENLARGE: A look at Rochester, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

ROCHESTER, N.H. — Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has received the endorsement of two New Hampshire newspapers, the Keene Sentinel and the Valley News, of Lebanon. The endorsements capped off a week in which for the first time, Huntsman passed Texas Rep. Ron Paul for third place in a poll of likely voters in the New Hampshire Republican primary. But how well Huntsman does between now and the primary, just three weeks away, is very much up in the air.

Huntsman is trying to appeal to independent voters, who are allowed to vote in the New Hampshire primary.

“He’s more moderate than, say, Newt Gingrich or [Michele] Bachmann or [Rick] Santorum,” said Christian Dubois, a freshman at Saint Anselm College and an independent voter. “You have to be able to cooperate with the left, and he’s stated that he’s willing to do that.”

Huntsman said he can feel the energy he’s generating in the state. But the crowds he attracts don’t appear to bear that out. Half as many people turn out in Rochester as did to a similar meeting in Merrimack in November. But then again, for the Rochester event, he does have some tough competition: the Patriots game is about to begin.

Huntsman said some Republicans overlooked him at first because he served as President Obama’s ambassador to China. He brings up his service as an example of placing country over party. To bolster his case that he would work with Democrats, he cites his refusal to sign a pledge that he won’t raise taxes.

Republican presidential candidate former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman speaks at a town hall meeting in Rochester, N.H., Sunday. (AP)

“I’m not going to sign those silly pledges like everybody on the debate stage has done,” Huntsman said. “I’m just not going to do that. I’m going to do what I think is right for the people I represent.”

There is another candidate who seems to be appealing to growing groups of independent voters, and that’s Paul. And there’s a big difference between the crowds Paul attracts and those Huntsman is getting.

About 40 people are clustered around a big Christmas tree in a corner of a large room at the Governor’s Inn, in Rochester. It’s a small crowd compared to the overflowing crush who packed the same room to hear Paul last month. But there are similarities: as with the crowds that come to hear Paul, there are families and independent voters.

Dubois concedes that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is likely to win the New Hampshire primary, but he holds out the hope that his candidate has a shot at second place.

“If he can come in (a) close third, or just barely beating Gingrich in New Hampshire, I think he’s going to be completely viable throughout the rest of the early primary states,” Dubois said.

Huntsman is also attracting conservative Republicans such as Brian Smeltz, who switched his support from Romney to Huntsman.

“You know, Romney says a lot of nice things, great things, but I just don’t trust that Romney would deliver the conservative cause that I believe Gov. Huntsman would,” Smeltz said.

By the end of the hour, Sharyn and Norman Stuart are carrying a Huntsman lawn sign out the door.

“We were very undecided at the time we walked in the door, and when he came in and spoke, everything just kind of seemed to click with us,” said Norman.

“He’s true to himself,” said Sharon. “I like that. A good man of character. You can tell that.”

The Stuarts believe that anything can happen between now and the primary.

“What is it? December what, 18th today? And we just finally found the person. We listened to him, and we like him,” Sharon said. “We’ll vote for him. But I think most New Hampshire people really haven’t made up their minds yet. They’re kind of laid back, and they keep things close to the vest.”

With three weeks to go, the polls show Romney solidly in the lead, with Gingrich in second place. If you judge Huntsman by the small crowd he’s drawn, you might end up thinking that he doesn’t have a shot. But talking to the voters at this Huntsman event, you get the sense that it’s still a wide-open race.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/peng.thinkblue Peng Hardin

    I’m glad to see Huntsman doing better in the polls.  As a Mugwaump (independent) I really don’t give a rat’s rear end about party affiliations, but Hunstman is the first person in the GOP that I wouldn’t dread occupying the Oval Office.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Delano-Gaston/1051430158 William Delano Gaston

      Why?  He’s not much different.  He still wants to maintain involvement in the middle east.

      Ron Paul has fought for decades for YOUR liberties, and now that he’s been proven right OVER and OVER and OVER again on domestic affairs, he is going to win this.

      Vote for him, a vote for Hunstman is a waste of a vote.

  • swiuv davis

    Huntsman got 2 endorsements from News Papers? Does his dad own the news papers? After Ron Paul wins Iowa, The whole race will be shaken up. It will be Ron Paul vs Romney in NH. NH has a lot of libertarians and Independents. It will be very interesting. Huntsman might luck out and be 3rd with 10% NH?? But after that?? Your campaigns a joke if you cant raise money and don’t have campaign HQ`s open in all the early states 5 month in advanced. At this point the only serious candidates, Paul/Romney, Are open up HQ`s in the super Tuesday states. Just like 2008. The only ones with Organization McCain, Romney, Huckabee, Did well. Bachmann, Santorum, Huntsman and Gingrich will have the same fate as Fred Thompson and Giuliani 2008. 

  • Anonymous

    A little bit of an old Poll for New Hampshire.

    New poll shows Romney losing ground, Ron Paul jumping to 2nd place and Huntsmann leapfrogging Newt who is in fourth.

    I think if Ron Paul picks up Iowa, he wins New Hanpshire and Huntsmann comes in a strong 3rd.

    • http://www.wbur.org/people/fthys Fred Thys

      bedr1, the new Public Policy Poll, released after this story aired, does show Ron Paul jumping into second place in New Hampshire, but it still has Jon Huntsman in fourth place, behind Newt Gingrich.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Delano-Gaston/1051430158 William Delano Gaston

    Huntsman endorsed Ron Paul as president already during a debate.  He also wants business as usual in the middle East, where as Ron Paul will actually bring the troops home, like 71% of Americans suggest.

    So why not just vote for Ron Paul?  Why would anyone want to hire the student when they can haave the teacher?

  • Skyylarr

    Attention Ron Paul supporters “STAY STRONG” You are about to see all BS from media Ron Paul is the REAL DEAL HE WILL MAKE AMERICA STRONGER SAFER  AND PROUD AGAIN!!!

  • Skyylarr

    IF YOU ???? Ron Paul on foreign policy watch the video on his site and you will understand without a doubt why we are meddlers and thru diplomacy we can fix it America should  apologize  for what we did in 1953 to Iran

  • http://www.longhairedpoet.blogspot.com/ Alexander Fisher

    There are a couple problems with Jon Huntsman. First off, he has a PAC and a Super PAC. His Super PAC is funded by his dad and The Huntsman Corporation. He is trying to buy the election. This is politics as usual and it is corrupt. Secondly, Jon Hunstman is an apologist for China. We need someone who will stand up to China and demand Fair Trade over Free Trade, someone who will deman Capitalism over Corportism. Someone who is Free To Lead. That is why we need Gov. Buddy Roemer for President.  He’s the only guy running who has been a Congressman and a Governor. He doesn’t take any PAC money or Super PAC money. He only takes donations of $100 or less. He’s the guy we need, not Jon Huntsman.

  • Anonymous

    Of course the NPR writer loves Huntsman now.  But he would drop him like a hot potato if he won the nomination, just like the Left dropped “Maverick” John McCain in 2008.

  • Duceswild557

    Ok, except Ron Paul will win because he actually stands for an idea..

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