The Washington Post

Huntsman tries to reboot in N.H. with sharp attack on Obama record

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a statement by Jon Huntsman campaign spokesman Tim Miller to Huntsman. The story has been corrected.

Jon Huntsman Jr. struck a sharper tone against President Obama in a slightly recast stump speech here Tuesday, an effort aimed at energizing his flagging bid for the GOP presidential nomination, which is centered on a strong primary showing in New Hampshire.

The speech is one of four planned this week and comes as Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China, effectively presses the reset button on his months-long campaign, which remains in the single digits in national polls. A new campaign manager was named last week.

Using language strikingly similar to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s attacks on Obama, Huntsman said the president, his former boss, has a dismal record on the economy.

“So the president’s a good man, he’s got a good family, he’s earnest, but he’s fundamentally failed us on the most important issue of our time, which is job creation and the economy,” Huntsman told an audience at Dartmouth College.

Huntsman, a former Utah governor, assailed Obama for being misguided in his approach to raising the debt ceiling. And Huntsman’s campaign linked Romney to Obama, a strategy that his aides said will continue.

“Republican primary voters will also face a historic choice — do they want to nominate a candidate who adopted President Obama’s budget approach as governor of Massachusetts?” Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said in a campaign statement, claiming that Romney raised hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes as governor.

Trying to tie Romney to Obama is not without its risks for Huntsman, whose work in the Obama administration remains one of his biggest obstacles in wooing conservative voters. That provides an easy opening for front-runner Romney, who has yet to go after any of his GOP rivals but will face questions about the health-care plan he signed in Massachusetts, as well as his past views on key issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

In New Hampshire, Huntsman has assembled a team of nearly two dozen paid staffers and is set to open several offices across the state as he attempts to chip away at Romney’s considerable lead.

“He has almost the biggest staff in all of New Hampshire . . . . and Huntsman is systematically canvassing. He will have plenty of money to run a fully financed effort here,” said Fergus Cullen, former head of the state GOP, who will host a house party for Huntsman and has extended invitations to other candidates.

Huntsman’s path to the nomination rests almost entirely on New Hampshire, which Obama won in 2008 but where his approval rating has fallen.

Although Huntsman entered the race with considerable news media attention, he has yet to make much of an impression. And his challenge could be complicated in coming weeks if Texas Gov. Rick Perry enters the field.

In recent days, Huntsman has emerged as a strong backer of House Speaker John A. Boehner’s approach to the debt ceiling, saying in a statement that Obama should sign on to the speaker’s plan.

Aides are discussing a media strategy that could include air time in New Hampshire, and they have already sent direct mail throughout the state, as has Romney. Much of Huntsman’s criticism of the former Massachusetts governor, who has a home here, has been thinly veiled.

“I’m running on my record. A lot of people run from their record,” Huntsman said, swiping at Romney. “So when you look at our record, we’ve got the number one job-creating state back when I was governor, as compared and contrasted with others in the race.”

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

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