Concord, NH—Jon Huntsman has decided to completely avoid campaigning in Iowa to focus solely on New Hampshire. The former Utah Governor has just begun a thirteen-day tour of New Hampshire leading up to its January 10 primary. Huntsman will need to finish in the top two in New Hampshire to keep going, but with Gingrich imploding he may get there. As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post notes, “It’s possible that the New Hampshire vote breaks late. And no one has spent more time than Huntsman courting it.” Don’t forget that hailing from the GOP’s business wing and a wealthy family confers advantages on a candidate. As Cillizza writes, “Huntsman—and his affiliated super PAC—have been spending millions of dollars on television in the Granite State.”
It’s starting to pay off. Huntsman has recently won endorsements from four of the nine New Hampshire newspapers that have endorsed, including the Concord Monitor, the state’s second-largest paper and a more liberal counterpart to the right-wing Union Leader. Recent New Hampshire polls show Huntsman battling with surging Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) for third place.
But why are New Hampshire Republican primary voters more receptive than are Iowa Republicans to Huntsman when Huntsman, as he never tires of pointing out, has actually been more consistently conservative than Gingrich?
The answer is that moderate Republican voters have no other options, except for New Hampshire front-runner Mitt Romney. Social conservatives and cultural reactionaries have a plethora of choices: true believers in Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, and a panderer eager to win them over in Romney. Huntsman and Romney do not offer much substantive moderation, but they offer temperamental moderation. This is especially true of Huntsman, who admits to believing in evolution and eschews Romney’s habit of falsely claiming President Obama is a radical socialist. New Hampshire, as the second-least religious state in the country, according to an enormous Gallup poll, is a state where Huntsman’s secular presentation plays well.
When speaking to an audience in New Hampshire, Huntsman presents a more moderate image of himself than when he goes on Fox News. His demeanor is affable and becalming, and he is more charismatic than he appears in televised debates. He readily brings up his service in the Obama administration and touts his electability. On foreign policy he offers a vision of common sense and restraint, arguing that we no longer need 50,000 troops in Germany to defend Western Europe from a Soviet invasion. Rather than deriding liberal academia and immoral artists as a culture warrior such as Gingrich might, Huntsman touts “the great creative class in America,” and “the best colleges and universities in the world,” as two of the nation’s biggest assets.
But he also tosses out some lines that could come from the mouth of Rush Limbaugh. He says Ron Paul “doesn’t get the transcendent threat of this decade, which is Iran.” He brags that he is “the only one on the stage who has embraced the Paul Ryan plan.” That would be the Paul Ryan plan to cut taxes on the rich, privatize Medicare and slash spending on programs that protect the poor. Most hilariously, he calls the serially dishonest—but undoubtedly right-wing—Wall Street Journal editorial page “the most respected editorial page in the world.”