Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman took aim at front-runner Mitt Romney on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, telling me that he’s the best candidate to unseat President Obama in November.
Huntsman, former governor of Utah and U.S. ambassador to China, said Romney is making himself “completely unelectable” when he makes statements like the one he made Monday about firing people. During a speech to business leaders, when talking about how people should be able to chose their own health insurance, the former Massachusetts governor said: “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
“Words and statements matter . . . when you are in a heated campaign,” Huntsman said on The Kudlow Report. “I just want to make sure we can get somebody who can go up against Barack Obama and not be chewed up by the political machine that’s going to have a billion dollars to spend on it.”
To take on Obama, the candidate has to be able to get more than just Republican votes, and Huntsman said he’s the man who can deliver.
“In order for someone to beat Barack Obama this year, they’re going to actually have to convince people who supported Barack Obama last time to support them,” he said. “If you can’t come out of New Hampshire or any other primary state with the Republicans and also a whole lot of independents, than we’re not going to have an electable candidate at the end of the exercise.”
Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses last week to focus on New Hampshire, is pinning his hopes on a strong showing in the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary today. While he lags far behind Romney, some polls show him moving into third place. According to Monday’s Suffolk University tracking poll, Huntsman has 13 percent of likely voters supporting him. Romney has 33 percent, down from 43 percent one week ago, and Rep. Ron Paul is at 20 percent.
Huntsman also took issue with Romney’s criticism of his service as ambassador to China under Obama. During Saturday’s debate, Romney reprimanded Huntsman for implementing the policies of the Obama administration instead of helping Republicans across the country get elected. But Huntsman said his dedication to his former job should win him favor with voters.
“People want a leader who actually believes in putting their country first,” Huntsman told me. “And Governor Romney made it very clear [during the weekend debates] that he believes in putting politics first.”
Huntsman also disagrees with Romney’s stance on penalizing China for currency manipulation.
“If [Romney] imposes a tariff the first day he’s in office, as he has threatened to do, you will have retaliation immediately on the part of the Chinese and it will result in a trade war,” he said. “That is an absolutely nonsensical approach to doing business.”
While the Chinese aren’t appreciating their currency at a speed Huntsman would like, he said the solutions need to be found during negotiations.
But he wouldn’t join in the chorus of Republican candidates attacking Romney for his work as a venture capitalist. Instead, he thinks the front-runner’s record as governor is the bigger issue.
“[Massachusetts] placed 47th in job growth in this country,” Huntsman said. “[Romney] didn’t put forward any big, bold tax-cut proposals, he didn’t put forward any tax-cut offerings to his legislator, he didn’t do anything big, bold, and courageous.”
Utah, on the other hand, was number one in job growth, delivered a flat tax, and reformed health care and education during his tenure, he said. “What’s most germane here is our records as governor,” said Huntsman.