New Year's Eve parties take Huntsman across NH

December 31, 2011 - 8:51 PM
Huntsman 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, center, greets shoppers at Calef's Famous Country Store in Barrington, N.H., Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

CAMPTON, N.H. (AP) — An increasingly confident Jon Huntsman said Saturday that the New Hampshire primary has become a two-man race between him and front-runner Mitt Romney.

Huntsman, who is skipping Tuesday's Iowa caucus, is pinning all his hopes on New Hampshire, where he has based his campaign and by Jan. 10 will have spent every day for two weeks straight.

Though he has struggled to gain traction, Huntsman notes that his movement in the polls has been steadily upward, unlike other candidates like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who have fallen after sharp rises.

"A lot of the polls have been tied to the early silly season," he said. "Sure enough, we're seeing every one of those early risers come down."

He said voters may have enjoyed the "political theater" of the last few months but are now ready to make a serious decision between "someone who can actually be president of the United States" and Romney, whom he has dismissed as the "status quo" candidate.

"In the days to come, you're going to see a tightening," he said. "I'd venture to say this is going to be a two-man race."

Asked by a voter in Concord why he was a better choice than Romney, Huntsman answered, "How about a consistent core?" While he praised Romney as a "good man," he said, "I haven't been on three sides of every issue."

Huntsman, a former ambassador to China, has been trying to appeal to New Hampshire independents, who can vote in the Republican primary, while also pitching himself as a conservative. Though several independent voters who've met Huntsman in the past few days have said they came away seriously considering him, he isn't winning over everyone. At his first stop in Campton Saturday, a former pediatric and obstetrics nurse said Huntsman's opposition to abortion rights was holding her back.

When Huntsman started to reply by saying that jobs and the economy would be his top priorities, the woman cut him off and said, "That's not what I asked you."

He continued by pointing to his 12-year-old daughter, Gracie, in the audience, saying adopting her and her younger sister have reinforced his pro-life views.

"If that is a deal-breaking issue, you'll have to find someone else," he said. "It's not at the top of my agenda, but it is who I am."

Huntsman also looked to his daughters in answering another question later, at a general store in tiny Washington, N.H. Asked to describe a "watershed" moment in his life, he described traveling to China to get Gracie — who had been abandoned in a vegetable market at two months of age, and later adopting his younger daughter from India, where she had been left on a roadside.

"I'd never had quite such an emotional journey," he said.