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In the Hunt?

In New Hampshire, the former Utah governor is 25 points behind, and gaining.

Dec 26, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 15 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Boyden Gray, a senior policy adviser and former official in the George H.W. Bush administration, points to Huntsman’s conservative positions on Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” Medicare reform plan (he’s the first presidential candidate to explicitly endorse it), on school choice (he’s for it), and on abortion (he’s strongly pro-life). And on the issue of health care, Gray notes, Huntsman has a particular leg up on Romney. As governor of Utah, Huntsman rejected the idea of including an individual health insurance mandate in his 2008 reforms. “He didn’t have the mandate,” Gray says. “Romney did.”

So, is Huntsman’s New Hampshire plan working? At the beginning of October, he was stuck in the single digits in the polls, where he remained for most of the next two months. But a new poll from Suffolk University released on December 14 showed Huntsman in third place, with 13 percent support among Republican primary voters, his highest numbers in New Hampshire yet. That’s still 25 points behind Romney, but only 7 behind Gingrich. If Romney underperforms in Iowa and voters decide he isn’t as electable as claimed, maybe they will bolt for Huntsman.

Maybe. The inescapable truth is that there’s a lot of seeing, touching, and feeling left to do, and Huntsman is running out of time. Despite his intense focus on the state over the fall, Huntsman’s name ID there is floating somewhere in the “high sixties, low seventies,” according to Miller. Romney and Gingrich have near-universal recognition. 

“Huntsman just hasn’t caught fire,” MacDonald observes. “He came in much later.” Romney was a presence during the 2010 elections, he says, and voters remember that.

The Romney campaign, for its part, doesn’t seem to take a threat from Huntsman seriously. “At some point, the fact that Governor Huntsman is an Obamaite at heart will be part of the mix,” says Sununu. “I don’t think people pay much attention to what Governor Huntsman says.”

Michael Warren is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

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