Exeter, N.H. — Tonight, in the same town hall in which he made his first New Hampshire speech as a formally declared presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman made his final pitch to Granite State voters.
“Can you feel a little bit of momentum in the air? Can you feel the energy out there?” he asked the crowd, assembled on the floor and on the room’s upper balconies, waving patriotically colored pom poms and holding up his campaign’s sharp new sign, a slanted red “H” over a black background, with “Huntsman” written in white. “I have no idea what it’s going to be tomorrow night, but I do know this: We’re going to surprise a whole lot of people in this country.”
Huntsman, casually dressed in a black leather jacket with a United States–flag patch on the upper arm, touted his campaign’s tireless work in the Granite State, including the 170 public events he had done. He spoke about America’s “trust deficit,” and how he would fix it. Briefly, he sketched out his key policy proposals again, lauding free markets, discussing how to make banks that were currently deemed too big to fail the “right size,” and stressing the need for a balanced budget. He tried to build off the momentum he had gained in Sunday morning’s debate, when he had debuted a fiestier personality than had generally been seen from him.
“Did you like the debate yesterday morning? I think we reminded a certain other candidate in the race that our team and our movement is here to put our country first,” Huntsman said, alluding to his sparring with Mitt Romney, who had been critical of Huntsman’s decision to serve as ambassador to China under President Obama. “We’re tired of people putting politics first.”
It was an attitude the audience embraced: “Country first” was chanted on multiple occasions.
For Huntsman, the challenge is to squeak into a surprise second tomorrow. Currently, polls show Ron Paul in that place, and Huntsman behind him. An upset could give Huntsman some momentum heading into South Carolina.
But the voters who came to Huntsman’s event underscored the challenges he faces. Based on my admittedly wholly unscientific and small sampling, many were independents or Democrats, not registered Republicans. They illustrated Huntsman’s ability, if the nominee, to appeal to non-Republican voters, but also suggested that he still has an uphill road to persuading Republican voters to make him the nominee, no matter how vehemently his campaign argues that his pro-life and tax-cutting record, particularly when contrasted to Romney, makes him an authentic conservative.
But tonight wasn’t about the polls. It was about celebrating how far Huntsman had come, his climb from about 4 percent this summer in New Hampshire to 12 percent today, per RealClearPolitics. “Are we ready to rock and roll tomorrow?” he asked the crowd, who roared in approval.
At the end of his remarks, Huntsman confidently predicted, “I believe that trust word is going to take us all the way to finish line tomorrow night, and we’re going to surprise the world!” Red, white, and blue confetti exploded over the room, U2’s “Beautiful Day” blasted, and in this old New Hampshire town hall, a crowd held out hope for a Huntsman upset tomorrow.