Peterborough, N.H. — About two hours before Iowans trekked to their caucuses this evening, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman held what might be seen as a defiant campaign meeting, packing the town hall in this classically picturesque New Hampshire community.
And a voter gave him the opening he wanted by asking Huntsman if he had a message for the winner of the Iowa caucuses. “A message for the winner of the Iowa caucuses?” Huntsman asked with a smile. “Welcome to the winner. Nobody cares.”
Huntsman skipped the caucuses, and he used that tonight to play on local pride. Iowa’s result, he said, “would be forgotten in 24 to 48 hours” and that all the attention would “be on you.”
“Don’t you have an awesome responsibility in this state?” he asked. “Not to put too much pressure on you.”
Huntsman is hoping to repeat John McCain’s 2008 feat of skipping Iowa and winning here. It’s a long shot, which Huntsman acknowledged. “I am the underdog in this race.” Polls suggest Huntsman is running third here, behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, but he is far behind Romney, who will arrive in New Hampshire as the heavy favorite.
The evening was a classic Huntsman event, heavy on substance and long on Q and A. Huntsman hopes to be the Rick Santorum of New Hampshire — hard work for months combined with a surge at the end. After the Iowa result, it’s a hope that seems a trifle more realistic. Even if nobody cares about Iowa.