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Huntsman earns Democrat's praise

Jon Huntsman collected some bipartisan praise yesterday when Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, joined the Republican presidential candidate at a campaign event at Concord High School.

Huntsman was speaking to more than 400 students at the school when Lynch, who had been in the building for breakfast with the Executive Council, entered the Christa McAuliffe Auditorium and took the stage to a standing ovation.

"I wanted to come over and welcome governor Huntsman to New Hampshire - although I think you've been here so frequently, you're almost a native," Lynch told Huntsman after the men shook hands.

"But I do want to thank governor Huntsman for his steadfast commitment to the New Hampshire primary," Lynch continued. "As governor, I really have - as one of my roles - to be an ambassador for the New Hampshire primary. I'm a strong proponent of the New Hampshire primary. . . . And Gov. Huntsman has been a strong, strong proponent of the New Hampshire primary."

Lynch has largely steered clear of the GOP presidential race, though he has spoken to candidates if their paths cross, such as a March run-in with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum at a St. Patrick's Day luncheon in Concord. In October 2007, Lynch appeared with eventual Republican nominee John McCain at a campaign event in Hopkinton, where each man praised the other.

Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and U.S. ambassador to China and Singapore, has focused his campaign on New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, with a busy schedule of house parties, town halls and other events over the past six months or so.

In October, when Nevada moved its caucus up to Jan. 14, he threatened to boycott the state and skipped a televised debate in Las Vegas in favor of holding a town hall event in Hopkinton.

Nevada eventually moved its caucuses to Feb. 4, clearing the deck for New Hampshire's Jan. 10 primary.

Huntsman's campaign added the stop at Concord High School to its public schedule the previous evening. He spent about a half-hour speaking and answering questions from students before he continued to the State House, where he and Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke to the House.

Huntsman urged the students to follow their dreams, and told them, "You've got a genius inside." He also told an extended anecdote about a woman he met in Utah who struggled with meth addiction, and he urged students to give back to their community.

He also spoke about McAuliffe, the Concord High School teacher who died in the 1986 space shuttle disaster. Concord High's auditorium is named for her.

"I want you all to become the next Christa McAuliffe," Huntsman said. "I want you to find what you're good at, what you're passionate about, and I want you to go change the world and make it a better place, because we have no choice. . . . The only way we're going to rebound as a country is if you all are at your very best."

He answered about a half-dozen questions from students, including one about his position on gay marriage. Huntsman said states should be able to "determine what they think is right," and he supports civil unions for same-sex couples.

"I am in favor of civil unions, and not everybody agrees with me on that," he said. "But I think there's such a thing as equality under the law."

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com.)

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