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Still Alone In New Hampshire, Huntsman Hopes To Pull A 'Santorum'

On the last day he'll have New Hampshire to himself, GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who bypassed the Iowa caucuses, plans to travel from Pembroke to Peterborough in search of enough votes to break into the top three in next week's Granite State primary.

With his presidential opponents scrambling for last-minute support in advance of Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, Huntsman has been methodically wooing New Hampshire voters in nearly 150 events over the past few weeks.

NPR photographer John Poole and I checked out one of those events Monday night at a community center in Dover, in the southeast corner of the state. It's always a good sign for a campaign when the advance team has to find more chairs for a larger-than-anticipated crowd, and that's what happened Monday. More than 100 people showed up to hear what the former Utah governor had to say.

Though Huntsman has been running well behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in surveys of New Hampshire voters, he's pressing for a top-three finish that he says will keep him in the primary game.

Here's what we heard and saw:

  • Huntsman told reporters, in so many words, that he wants to pull a 'Santorum' in New Hampshire, referring to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's big surge in Iowa over the past week. Santorum visited every county in Iowa, painstakingly building up support and peaking late. "We've done the same type of work here," Huntsman said.

  • Though Huntsman doesn't believe a New Hampshire win is in his future, he says that the momentum of a second- or third-place finish will keep him in the race. His campaign, he says, has to "come out of New Hampshire with a head of steam," and a sheen of electability.

  • About his decision a few days ago to match donations with his own money through Wednesday, the wealthy Huntsman said it is an effort to "stimulate a little more giving over a short period of time." He also wants to get an ad up in the Granite State. His campaign website Tuesday morning reported that the campaign had raised $61,617 of the $100,000 it says it needs to air the ad, "Only One," which hits the theme that many have pegged him as the GOP candidate with the best chance of defeating President Obama.

  • Huntsman referred to New Hampshire as a "state that doesn't want a coronation," and referred to Romney, who holds a wide lead in the polls, as a "good candidate." But he peppered his remarks, which continue to center on what he has characterized as a "deficit of trust" in the country, with references to "pandering," and support from Wall Street and elected members of Congress, all Romney digs.

Here's what some in the crowd told us after the event:

  • "What resonates with me is his honesty. I do think he has a chance if he finishes in the top three." Howard Stiles, 49, of Dover, who is undecided. His mother, a state senator, has endorsed Huntsman.

  • "I'm leaning more toward him — and his trust thing. We're all so disappointed with everything that's happening." Joanne Rano, of Rollinsford, who is considering Romney but leaning toward Huntsman.

  • "I tilt toward him because he's one of two guys in the race who believes in evolution! He's the most moderate in the field, though he wouldn't want to say that. " Frank Pinney, retired engineer, of Dover, who is deciding between Huntsman and Romney. Pinney said he likes Huntsman's support of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan to tackle the nation's deficits with cuts and revenue.
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