MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Jon Huntsman is hoping the Granite State will be his bedrock.
On Friday, the Republican presidential candidate landed an endorsement from a member of former President George W. Bush’s Cabinet, sewing up a week of campaign appearances after a less-than well-reviewed debate performance Monday in Florida.
“I think we can win New Hampshire. I’m feeling good buzz,” Huntsman said Friday in an interview on Bloomberg TV’s Political Capital With Al Hunt, hours after he appeared on stage here with ex-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. In eight New Hampshire campaign stops this week, Huntsman got enthusiastic responses by tailoring his usual stump speech to whichever audience sat before him.
Meeting with company owners and employees at Rokon Motorcyle’s headquarters in Rochester, Huntsman talked manufacturing; at town hall forum in Exeter’s Riverwoods retirement community, he decried the “scary” language coming from both sides of the aisle on Social Security; dropping by a Rotary Club meeting in Salem, he reminisced about his grandfather’s involvement in Rotary.
Ridge, like Huntsman, is a former governor with an independent streak. His backing might have counted for more in the 1990s, when he was the Republican governor of the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
But he’s a name nonetheless, and as Huntsman remains stalled in the lowest figures of the polls, a name is what he needs.
“We’re just beginning to introduce ourselves to the people of New Hampshire and the people of the United States,” Huntsman told reporters Friday at St. Anselm’s College as Ridge nodded vigorously next to him. “Ninety percent of the people in this state are undecided; that tells me something about how deliberative the process is here in New Hampshire. Even with a field of candidates, some of whom have been around here before, I like our chances. I like our position.”
In the Bloomberg interview, Huntsman argued that other leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination don’t stack up to his resume. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney “certainly doesn’t have hands-on foreign policy experience,” said Huntsman, who just returned from serving as President Obama’s ambassador to China. As for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, “I think on science he is out of the mainstream,” said Huntsman, a reference to Perry’s skepticism about climate change and evolution.
So far in his presidential campaign, Huntsman has billed himself as the sole Republican who can appeal to youth and independents. But his new target demographic, it seems, is something along the lines of the VH-1 viewership audience.
Complementing the hog-riding, gun-shooting, maverick persona Huntsman has carefully cultivated, the former Utah governor seems to have set himself a quota of one pop culture reference per day. Since receiving flack for his vague reference to the band Nirvana during Monday’s GOP debate in Tampa, Florida, Huntsman has been touring New Hampshire, dropping mentions of classics like the movie Wayne’s World and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
“You know there was a great line in Wayne's World, the movie, something like, ‘Not worthy, not worthy,’” Huntsman said Wednesday as he sat down with state Sen. Nancy Stiles over two full plates of seafood at the 401 Tavern in Hampton, N.H. “Hardly worthy of this kind of food.”
During a town hall in Sandown, N.H. Thursday night, Huntsman took his pop culture knowledge to a deeper level, comparing the superficial format of debates to the short version of “Stairway to Heaven.” (Huntsman says he prefers the longer version.)