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Huntsman 'knocking on the door'

Last modified: 10/10/2011 12:00:00 AM
Jon Huntsman opened a six-day swing through New Hampshire yesterday by telling a town-hall audience in New London that his campaign is moving in the right direction in the first-primary state.

"We've gone from being the margin-of-error candidate, nowhere . . . to knocking on the door of maybe third or second place, low double digits. Out of nowhere," he told a packed room of students and others in a meeting room at Colby-Sawyer College.

"And let me tell you how we're doing it, folks. We're doing it the old fashioned way, the way that you're supposed to do it here in New Hampshire. We're earning it, because this is a state that doesn't like to be told for whom to vote."

The former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China says he needs to do well in the Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary to have a shot at winning the Republican presidential nomination. He's increasingly focused on the state, and announced last month that his national headquarters would move from Orlando to Manchester.

Despite low numbers in national polls, recent state polls show Huntsman gaining some traction. A University of New Hampshire survey released Friday showed him with 8 percent, tied with potential candidate and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for fourth place. That's up from 2 percent in July, though still far behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's 37 percent. The poll of likely Republican primary voters, taken Sept. 26 to Oct. 6, has a 5.3 percent margin of error.

"We need to do well here," Huntsman told reporters after the event. "We need to do well, and we're going to do well."

Huntsman took more than a dozen questions at yesterday's town hall and sounded many of his usual themes, including tax and regulatory reform and the importance of the U.S.-China relationship.

He told the crowd it's time to withdraw most U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

"I believe, after 10 years of fighting the War on Terror, that it's time to come home from Afghanistan, that it is time to recognize the reality of where we are," Huntsman said. "Yes, of course, you need intelligence gathering there. Yes, of course, you need special-forces capabilities on the ground. But 100,000 troops, nation-building for the most part, at a time when this nation so desperately needs to be built - I say that's unacceptable for this person."

Asked about federal tax deductions including charitable contributions, Huntsman touted his tax plan, which would eliminate all deductions and credits. Instead, it would establish three income-tax brackets at 8, 14 and 23 percent versus today's six brackets topping out at 35 percent.

Huntsman said President Obama's healthcare reform law is hurting the economy and should be repealed. He said the Pentagon's procurement system for new ships and weapon systems is bloated. He said the U.S. shouldn't implement anti-climate change measures that could hurt the economy if China won't also curb emissions. He called debt a "cancer . . . that's metastasizing in this country" and said increased domestic natural gas and other energy production is necessary to break America's "heroin-like addiction to foreign oil."

Asked about the Occupy Wall Street protestors who have taken to the streets in New York and other cities, Huntsman said he sees in their movement "the same basic angst and outrage that fuels any movement," including the Tea Party and the anti-Vietnam War protests in his youth.

"I think every generation, you have issues that compel people to stand up and want to try to find solutions. . . . For people to be able to gather and to speak out on the issues of the day is a good thing, and that's who we are as Americans," Huntsman said.

State Rep. Dave Kidder, a New London Republican, introduced Huntsman yesterday, and endorsed him.

"I'm a moderate Republican," Kidder said after the event. "He's the only one of everyone running who's anywhere near moderate. He makes sense to me."

Huntsman will deliver a speech on foreign policy this morning at Southern New Hampshire University before holding a town hall in Tilton and speaking to the Grafton County Republican Committee's Columbus Day dinner in Plymouth.

He has additional events this week in Hanover, Keene, Marlow, Greenland and Manchester, including tomorrow night's debate at Dartmouth College. He's scheduled to wrap up his New Hampshire tour in Concord Friday with an employee town hall at Lincoln Financial Group.

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


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