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Emboldened Huntsman takes swings at Romney

Last modified: 1/9/2012 12:00:00 AM
A bolder and more aggressive Jon Huntsman said yesterday he has momentum on his side as he enters the final hours of campaigning before tomorrow's presidential primary.

"We're moving in a direction that nobody would have predicted even a few short days ago. You just watch it hour by hour," he told reporters in Hampstead.

Later, in Bedford, Huntsman declared, "I feel a little momentum. I feel a little surge. . . . This is really an exhilarating moment for us. You put in a lot of work - for us, it's over 160 public events in New Hampshire. No one has worked this market nearly as aggressively as we have, and then you kind of see light at the end of the tunnel. And that's exactly what we're experiencing now."

The former governor of Utah also took his hardest swings yet at rival Mitt Romney, saying Romney's criticism of his service as President Obama's U.S. ambassador to China shows the former Massachusetts governor "apparently . . . doesn't believe in putting country first."

For days, Huntsman has been saying he needs a "market-moving event" to boost his presidential campaign and beat "market expectations" in New Hampshire, where he has spent months campaigning.

"You're seeing a market mover right here," an upbeat Huntsman said yesterday as he left a packed BeanTowne Coffee House and Cafe in Hampstead, surrounded by a crush of media and supporters.

Among the polls cited by Huntsman's campaign: Suffolk University's tracking poll, which yesterday showed Huntsman rising into third place with 11 percent, behind Romney's 35 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul's 20 percent. The poll, taken Friday and Saturday, had a 4.4 percent margin of error.

In televised debates Saturday night and yesterday morning, Huntsman and Romney clashed over Huntsman's 2009 appointment by Obama, a Democrat, as the U.S. ambassador to China. The Mandarin-speaking Huntsman has said he's proud to have served his country in the job, which he left last year to run for president himself.

"I think we serve our country first by standing for people who believe in conservative principles and doing everything in our power to promote an agenda that does not include President Obama's agenda," Romney said in yesterday's debate at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, later adding, "I just think it's most likely that the person who should represent our party running against President Obama is not someone who called him a remarkable leader and went to be his ambassador in China."

In past debates and on the trail, Huntsman has typically tempered his language toward Romney and avoided attacking him directly.

Yesterday, he didn't hold back.

"Let's just be honest about it: I put my country first. Apparently Mitt Romney doesn't believe in putting country first," Huntsman told reporters in Hampstead. "He's got this bumper sticker that says . . . 'Believe in America.' How can you believe in America when you're not willing to serve America? That's just phony nonsense."

He kept up the line of attack in Bedford, where he spoke to the media before attending a packed house party there.

Romney, Huntsman said, "talks about never apologizing for America. Well, I want the American people to know that I'll never apologize for serving America. That's who I am, that's who I've always been and I'll take that philosophy to my grave."

And last night in Keene, he told a town hall audience of several hundred people, "I'm somebody who believes in putting my country first. Mr. Romney apparently believes in politics first."

Ralph Rathjen, a Sanbornton independent, said he's leaning toward voting for Huntsman. He came out to meet the candidate at his Bedford house party.

"I like his background. I like the fact that he was ambassador to China," Rathjen said. "He seems to be a team player."

Lisa Petrie of Amherst also came out to see Huntsman in Bedford. She said she was especially impressed after yesterday's debate.

"There are definitely issues that I don't agree with . . . but I'm interested. I was impressed by his debate performance, and I've always thought that he would be the best Republican to put forward," she said.

But Huntsman can't have her vote. Petrie said she's a registered Democrat, and so can't cast a ballot in the Republican primary.

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


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