By Shira Schoenberg
A keyboard-playing, ice cream eating Jon Huntsman spent an hour shaking hands in downtown Manchester today, displaying naturalness on the campaign trail that may be the envy of some of his Republican competitors for the presidential nomination. Visiting a music store, Huntsman, who dropped out of high school to play in a rock band, sat down at a keyboard and played the theme song to "Charlie Brown."
A few doors down, Huntsman ordered a small cup of Cherry Garcia ice cream from Ben & Jerry's, choosing the flavor named for Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. "I have the Grateful Dead running through my head," Huntsman quipped while eating his ice cream.
Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, is in the middle of a five-day swing through New Hampshire, where he is appearing at house parties, speaking to chambers of commerce, touring businesses and meeting privately with legislators and activists. Today, he toured Manchester with Mayor Ted Gatsas.
While some politicians -- most recently former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney -- have been criticized for their stiffness when talking to voters, Huntsman, wearing corduroy pants and a checkered shirt rolled up at the sleeves, seemed to chat comfortably with diners and business owners, despite the gaggle of reporters following him.
"I have a daughter named Abby, but I've never seen it with an "i,'" Huntsman told Abbi MacFarlane, a volunteer with City Year. "We have a bond. We were both born in Palo Alto," Huntsman told a 12-year-old girl who volunteered her birthplace.
When Steve Lebel, a third grade teacher, asked Huntsman about education, Huntsman talked about his work in Utah expanding early childhood education and introducing Chinese language into classrooms. "We need to fundamentally expand options," he said. "More charter schools, more technology."
When Victor Dahar asked about the recent debt ceiling debate, Huntsman answered, "Because everyone's upset, we probably found the right balance." He faulted President Obama for a lack of leadership, praised the plan that was signed into law for cutting spending and avoiding default, and talked about the need to discuss a balanced budget amendment, entitlement reform and tax reform. With a casual, "Huntsman's the name. I'm running for president," Huntsman told voter after voter, "It's about expanding the economy and creating jobs."
Huntsman even got a chuckle from the press corps. When a reporter asked about a campaign mailer that misspelled Huntsman's name -- writing "John" instead of "Jon" -- Huntsman shot back, "I come from a long line of illiterates. They forgot to put the "h' in my name. Sometimes that comes back to haunt me."