In the final sprint, Huntsman has gained some momentum and is aiming to draw votes from Mitt Romney, the front-runner and candidate with whom Huntsman shares the most ground ideologically.
In a debate Sunday, the former Utah governor drew applause when he chided Romney for criticizing his willingness to serve as ambassador to China under President Obama. “This nation is divided . . . because of attitudes like that,” Huntsman said.
He sounded the same theme a few hours later, when about 250 people packed into a Hampstead coffee shop to hear the Republican hopeful’s stump speech. “I put my country first,” he said. “Apparently, Mitt Romney doesn’t believe in putting country first.”
But the most recent polls show that he faces significant hurdles in the primary. Romney has a double-digit lead, with Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) a distant second. In a Suffolk University tracking poll released Sunday, Huntsman is in third place with about 11 percent and is only a few percentage points ahead of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who finished second to Romney in last week’s Iowa caucuses.
When he entered the race six months ago, Huntsman’s politics and pedigree made him a candidate to watch. But critics say he committed a series of strategic errors that not only threaten his presidential bid but also could limit his future opportunities.
By choosing not to run in Iowa, he gave Romney a wide berth to consolidate moderates and claim to be the field's most electable candidate. And Huntsman’s hard-to-pin-down politics alienated him from conservatives as well as moderates in the party.
“Jon Huntsman’s candidacy is on life support. He has based his entire campaign on New Hampshire, but it has not come together,” said Mike Dennehy, a GOP strategist in New Hampshire who worked for the 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) but is unaffiliated this year. “Frankly I don’t know if he has that much of a political future because of the way he has conducted himself.”
Huntsman said he is pleased with the way he has conducted his campaign.
“We’ve worked every angle. We’ve worked hard. We’ve reached out to all corners of this state,” he told reporters at a house party in Bedford. “Then you leave it to the voters of the state.”
Campaign aides said his crowds have been growing larger as the primary approaches.
A lot is at stake for Huntsman, who gave up a great deal to run for president and has lost some of the cachet that garnered him so much early attention.