By Chris Jensen
Former Utah governor and unofficial Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman spent the weekend in the North Country. NHPR's Chris Jensen reports Huntsman seems to understand what he needs to do first.
The young woman at the Cultural Heritage Festival in Berlin Saturday was a perfect and embarrassing example of Jon Huntsman's problem.
Huntsman introduced himself and said he was considering running for president.
She said enthusiastically, it would be wonderful to have a president from New Hampshire.
Without seeming a bit surprised Huntsman smiled and nicely explained he was the former governor of Utah.
That is the challenge for Huntsman.
In a crowded race, he is virtually unknown in New Hampshire.
Early Saturday morning he began working on that problem with a two-day tour of the North Country.
Two days might seem like a lot in an area with a relatively small percentage of the state's voters.
But for Huntsman, the location is part of his message.
"Because if you are going to take this state seriously, which we will want to do, you've got to touch every corner, whether urban or rural, whether populated, whether less populated and this is a part of this strategy."
Granite Staters have a soft spot for the candidate who they think is most able to connect with regular people and it would hard to exaggerate how much Huntsman has riding on New Hampshire voters. He needs the visibility of a strong showing in the primary.
At a breakfast in North Conway held by the Carroll County Republicans, he said he will skip the Iowa caucuses.
"I am not competing in Iowa, for a reason. I don't believe in subsidies that prop up corn, soybeans. I think they distort the global marketplace. All you have to do is look at food inflation."
Huntsman has a liability in this race. He was President Obama's ambassador to China, an affiliation that doesn't sit well with many Republicans. But Huntsman hopes to parlay that experience into something that bolsters his credentials as a man who understands where America can compete in the emerging world economy.
"You are going to see the rise of China over the next several years. You are going to see the rise of India 20 years later. And, we are going to have to ask ourselves the question "Do we want to be the preeminent power in the 21st century?' I know we do. I know every American wants to be the preeminent power. We owned the last century and we ought to own the 21st century."
At the relatively short breakfast meeting it was no surprise that Huntsman didn't detail precisely how he would make that happen.
But he said balancing the budget would be key and that includes considering cuts in everything from the Department of Defense to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, giving a nod to one controversial Republican proposal and others as well.
"The Ryan plan, I think, is a very, very good start. The debt commission has come out with some of their own ideas and through it all it is the American way to look critically at all these plans and synthesize them into possible options and then we are going to have to make some tough choices in this country."
It was a message that generally went over well with a Republican audience but State Rep Karen Umberger noted that being courted by presidential hopefuls is hardly new. She got right to the point.
"But I want to know what makes you the one that we should choose?"
Huntsman didn't pause. He touted his experience in industry and government and then came back to the big picture.
"Perhaps this differentiates us more than anything else, does somebody really understand the challenging and unpredictable nature of the world in which we live?"
Huntsman stopped in eight North Country communities.
Town by town and handshake by handshake he was paying his New Hampshire dues, trying to gain visibility.
The strategy continues next week when this son of a billionaire plans to ride a motorcycle as part of Laconia motorcycle week.