Will Huntsman's Diligence Ever Pay Off?
He has made New Hampshire the centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
Rick Ouellette is a bit of a Jon Huntsman groupie. He's been attending Huntsman's campaign stops, especially in Nashua. Today he's waiting at a table in the back of Rivier College's Dana Center, chatting with an undecided voter about the virtues of Huntsman while comparing today's turnout here to last week's appearance, in the same venue, by Newt Gingrich.
"Why was the room packed for Gingrich? I don't know what we need to do to light a fire under this campaign," said Ouellette. "It's hard to determine what it is – or what it isn't – that keeps people from supporting Jon Huntsman."
If success in the New Hampshire Presidential Primary were based on pure math and science, Huntsman should be a statistical shoo-in.
He's made 111 campaign stops here – including several in Exeter – and says he has shook hands with every person in the Granite State, at least twice. Two weeks ago he appeared on Saturday Night Live, letting his New Hampshire-centric campaign – and sense of humor – work for him in front of a hipper, cooler, perhaps more liberal audience than he has played to during the GOP debates.
Huntsman looks at ease in person. He highlights his strengths at every turn, including his economic recovery plan for America that has been endorsed by the Wall Street Journal. He's successfully governed a state, bucked his party's stance on global warming and plays nicely with the politicians across the aisle, having served as Ambassador to China under the Obama administration.
And he's apparently good at being a dad, too – as a proud father of seven, his three grown daughters are in his corner, cranking out YouTube videos on his behalf as the Jon2012 Girls; his two younger daughters, one adopted from China and another from India, put him right up there with Brangelina and Madonna. His two sons are both serving in the U.S. Navy. His wife, Mary Kaye, is a knockout.
So why is Mitt Romney beating him so soundly in the polls?
Afterall, they have more than a little in common – both have large, Mormon families and sport distinguished gray coiffed hair around their temples. Both have governed a state. Both would be labeled as moderates on the sliding scale of Republican Party values.
Yet, Huntsman, for all his campaigning and spent shoe leather here, still straggles behind not only Romney, but continues to register single-digit standings somewhere toward the bottom of the slate, after Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul, hovering at about 2.3 percent popularity, right next to Michele Bachmann.
Yet, those who have heard Huntsman speak in person and examined his credentials believe he's got the right stuff; just not a very good marketing strategy.
"He definitely needs marketing help, but he's doing his best," said Jack Falvey of Londonderry. "He's got great substance, and great depth. A 12-second sound bite on TV doesn't do it. He is worldly, he is global, and he really knows what he's doing."
Sonia Ascher of Hollis took Huntsman aside to pick his brain about how he'd rise above partisan politics, as president. Afterward, she said she was impressed.
"But he needs more exposure. I don't think it's anything he's doing wrong; I think his campaign needs a boost," Ascher said. "But I'm leaning in his direction, now."
Ditto that, said Thomas Minichiello of Groveland, Mass., who also had a word with Huntsman after the Rivier question-and-answer session officially ended.
"I told him I felt he was going to peak after Christmas," said Minichiello. "Everyone else has been the flavor of the month, getting their two or three weeks of fame."
Although Huntsman is still under the mainstream radar, said Minichiello, he believes he's doing himself a favor by working so hard in New Hampshire, and pacing himself.
"The New Hampshire Primary is a marathon; it's not a sprint. I think Newt will fade, and as people take a second and third look at Huntsman, he will prove to be a much stronger candidate than the rest," Minichiello said. "And I don't think he has to win New Hampshire. He only has to come in a strong second to become the alternative to Romney for the rest of the country."