(Jim Cole/AP)

CONCORD, N.H.—It wasn’t exactly a state of the union address, but presidential candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman got in a little practice Wednesday at speaking before a legislature, just in case they ever get a chance to do so in Washington.

The two Republicans delivered back-to-back speeches to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the largest state legislature in the country. Standing at a rostrum in front of row after row of New Hampshire representatives, with huge paintings of former presidents behind them, the two candidates were each allowed 10 minutes to make their best case on why New Hampshire should support them in the upcoming primaries.


But elsewhere in the State House, most buzz centered on a critical state vote about to take place—whether the legislature would override a gubernatorial veto of law making New Hampshire a “right-to-work” state.

The most electrifying moment of either man’s speech was when Perry urged the legislature to overturn the veto of Gov. John Lynch of a new law making it illegal to require employees to join a union.

“If you pass into law a right to work law—you may join my home state and take over the title of the state creating more jobs in America than any place in the United States,” Perry said, his words drowned out from raucous cheers and boos from the representatives and union protesters in the gallery above.

“I want to be very clear about something,” he said. “Unions have their proper role in America. But you shouldn’t be forced to join one to feed your family. It should be your choice.”

Huntsman did not address the issue Wednesday but had previously supported a veto override in an editorial in New Hampshire’s Union Leader newspaper.

Not long after the two men spoke, the legislature failed to muster the 2/3 vote necessary to override the veto, a major victory for Democrats, who said it was a sign that Republicans nationally have overreached in their efforts to curb unions.

For both men, the state house speeches were the most formal of a series of New Hampshire events intended to revive their lagging campaigns.

Perry’s poll numbers have been dropping and he received the most attention during his two-day swing through the state this week for flubbing the voting age at an event in Manchester on Tuesday.

But Huntsman’s numbers have been slowly rising in the state. On Wednesday, he held a morning town hall at a middle school in Concord and was scheduled to stop at a meet-and-greet at a Portsmouth law firm in the evening.

“You are the window through which the rest of the country gets to understand and analyze the candidates for president of United States of America,” Huntsman told the state legislators. “You get to see our hearts and souls.”

Huntsman worked to strike an optimistic tone, promising that if elected, he would help revive the country’s lagging confidence and restore faith in its political system. He said his service as ambassador to China has helped him see America’s advantages and promised to remind the rest of the country of them as well.

“We have everything going for us that any country would ever want to succeed, and we don’t even see that in ourselves. Maybe it takes someone coming 10,000 miles to this country to remind everybody,” he said.