The Washington Post

Jon Huntsman still playing catch up at Fox News GOP debate

Can former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. avoid the Nirvana references and start speaking a language GOP voters might appreciate at Thursday night’s Fox News GOP debate?

In this month’s earlier debate, Huntsman made little impression except for an allusion to a Nirvana song that didn’t get any reaction from the audience.

Huntsman has tried to tout his credentials as a moderate Republican with a combination of experiences (governor, President Obama’s ambassador to China, business executive) that his rivals lack. The approach so far hasn’t worked; a Gallup poll released Monday put Huntsman at one percent in the GOP pack, trailing seven other Republican contenders.

Huntsman has shifted most of his campaign resources to New Hampshire and is trying to win the moderate Republicans and independents there. But his challenge may be growing; in response to the rise of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is increasingly emphasizing his more moderate stands on issues like Social Security, presenting himself as the business-oriented, electable Republican, exactly the niche Huntsman is also trying to carve out.

Romney, of course, has much higher name recognition from his previous presidential run.

On the other hand, if Romney invests fully in Iowa, as his campaign is considering, it could give Huntsman the opportunity to spend every day in the Granite State and grab all the press attention because the other candidates are gone. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) deployed this strategy successfully in 2008.

Huntsman aides Wednesday highlighted a poll of New Hampshire voters that showed him in third place, ahead of Perry in the Granite State. The former Utah governor is four points behind Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) in the survey and 31 points behind Romney.

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