By Gregory W. Wallace (@gregorywallace)
UPDATED | RAYMOND, N.H. — Former Governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah regularly tells Granite State audiences that he understands voters here are not won with a single handshake.
“You’ve seen all the candidates, they’ve all come through, you shake hands once, twice, third time, nobody pays any attention,” he said at a town hall meeting here. “On about the fifteenth handshake people begin to say, ‘I truly get what you’re saying.’ ”
Mr. Huntsman is putting down shoe leather in New Hampshire betting that handshakes by the dozen, day after day in the Granite State will continue to boost his profile here, and roll up to spark his national campaign, which is struggling at the bottom of the G.O.P. hopeful heap.
He hopes his ground work will revive a sense of trust in politics and politicians lost long ago.
“There’s no trust anymore. Have you noticed that? There is no trust in the people of the president,” he said, citing the first president for whom he worked, Ronald Reagan. “Whether you agree with Ronald Reagan or not, whether you like what he said or were inspired by what he said, you trusted what he said. You could take it to the bank. And when you begin to loose trust between people and the president, things begin to go south.”
After meeting with state representatives in an Amherst, N.H., diner, Mr. Huntsman came to this town hall meeting. He delivered his standard stump speech, fielded questions on his greatest assets (“compassion and leadership”), public-private partnerships in infrastructure, immigration, and booing of a soldier at the last G.O.P. debate.
He was asked by reporters about another issue from the Fox News/Google presidential debate in Orlando, Fla., this past week, Mr. Huntsman expressed a more favorable view towards Race To The Top than his rivals did.
Asked if he supports federally-sponsored competition among states, Mr. Huntsman said, “As it relates to education policy, I think that the more that we can push back to the local level of decision making the better off this country is going to be.”
On the debate stage, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who is opposed to the program, said former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts supports the program created by President Barack Obama’s education department. “I’m not sure exactly what he’s saying,” Mr. Romney said in reply. “I don’t support any particular program that he’s describing.”
The federal Department of Education is as much a G.O.P. punching bag this cycle as is the Environmental Protection Agency. The Republican contenders also criticize the No Child Left Behind law, enacted under former President George W. Bush.
“The unfunded mandates, for example, No Child Left Behind, didn’t work well in the state of Utah. We were the first state to opt out,” he said, citing his experience as governor. “Nobody loves their schools more than parents, school board members, local elected officials.”
When local governments lead education policy, Mr. Huntsman predicted seeing “a combination of greater choice and flexibility, early childhood development opportunities, different languages that we infuse into the classroom, that are more relevant to the 21st century.”
He did not say if he would favor the competition model being used in other areas. “More to come,” he said.