Talk about thanks, but no thanks. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews closed his talk show on Tuesday night by calling on New Hampshire residents to vote for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, citing Huntsman’s independence, a mere two hours before polls close in the state.
Matthews’ endorsement on his Hardball show played right into the narrative that has dogged Huntsman since the beginning of the campaign—that he is too moderate.
“Up here in New Hampshire, they have an ability to say something today, something really important. I know what I would do, I would vote for Huntsman,” the host of Hardball said. “I would do it to send a message to the pols in both parties. I would do it to say that political moderation is not a crime, that there has to be a home for it in both parties. Many smart, good, insightful Americans of good faith and values stand between the 40-yard lines a bit to the right, a bit to the left, and they need to have a champion, at least long enough to get their point across.”
Huntsman has tried to mitigate the argument that he is too moderate for today’s Republicans by pointing to his conservative record in Utah and by asserting that the eventual nominee will need to attract independents and Democrats—like Matthews and a majority of his audience—in order to defeat President Obama in the fall.
Whether Huntsman’s argument has succeeded will see its first real test in Tuesday's New Hampshire Republican primary, where Huntsman has focused his campaign and where he is hoping to finish in the top three.