By Gregory W. Wallace (@gregorywallace)
Jon Huntsman laid his chips on the New Hampshire square long ago, but tonight he stepped up his New Hampshire-centric rhetoric, seeking “a little groundswell, and we’re going to get it here in New Hampshire.”
“I don’t care how the rest of the country thinks or feels,” the former Utah governor told voters in Portsmouth. “That’s not important.”
His effort, which is nearly entirely focused on New Hampshire, has yet to show significant progress in statewide polling, and the polls which matter — Election Day — are merely eight weeks away. By his campaign’s count, tonight was his 100th event in the Granite State.
Huntsman spiced his stumping tonight with digs at top rivals, jousting from afar in a week without the G.O.P. presidential hopefuls sharing a debate stage.
He latched on to a columnist’s characterization of Mitt Romney as “the pretzel candidate,” saying, “The last thing I want to do is contort myself into a pretzel.” In an October essay, George Will coined the phrase, calling out the former governor of Massachusetts for being “a recidivist reviser of his principles.”
And Huntsman ridiculed the consequences of Rick Perry’s tax plan, which includes a flat tax proposal but would allow taxpayers to opt instead to file under the current code. “I say if someone is still rigging the system they’re going to keep doing it,” he said, saying that because “this economy has hit the wall, we can’t afford to take half steps.”
Prompted by a questioner’s detailed question on U.S.-China trade relations, Huntsman spent several minutes on the topic — his forte — before fielding questions on health care and taxes.
His campaign may benefit from an outside group’s statewide advertizing buy, which touts Huntsman’s biography, then asks, “Why haven’t we heard of this guy?” According to some reports, the outside group, Our Destiny, is pumping over half a million dollars onto broadcast and cable television — where Perry has ventured, but Romney has not yet.
Huntsman’s own campaign has also announced two groups of supporters in recent weeks, one of business leaders and a second dominated by college students called “Generation H.” Supportive videos created by his three adult daughters, known as the Jon 2012 Girls, have landed on newscasts and racked up hits online; tonight he called his daughters his “greatest surrogates.”
He told voters that his current standing — he has a “little buzz” — is a good place to be now, and looks forward to “a steady substantive rise in new Hampshire.” He asked attendees to read his economic plan, and should they like it, to come aboard his campaign.
“I just want your vote,” he said, “and if you’ve never run for president before and if you have to ask for a vote, you’re asking for the thing that is most important to them.”
The Portsmouth event was the first of three events on this three-day New Hampshire swing. Romney, Perry, and businessman Herman Cain will all be in the state before he returns again.