Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman - skipping a Nevada debate in a show of support for New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation Presidential Primary - told a standing-room-only crowd of about 250 that the United States needs long-term solutions to its economic woes.
Referring to a jobs plan being pushed by his former boss, President Barack Obama, Huntsman said he would get to the "root" of why businesses aren't hiring, namely taxes and regulations.
"When taken separately, there are parts of it that are probably OK," said Huntsman, the former governor of Utah. "But in total, we're not thinking big enough here. (The jobs plan) is temporary, it's half measures and it's fleeting. It'll be gone in a year or two and then we'll be back to where we are now and running more deficits."
Huntsman's town hall meeting, held in the hometown of Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, coincided with a Republican primary debate held in Las Vegas, which he was invited to. While other candidates - businessman Herman Cain, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich - have joined Huntsman in boycotting the Nevada caucus after that state's officials set it for Jan. 14, Huntsman was the only major candidate who skipped Tuesday's debate in Nevada.
He told the crowd - to raucous applause - that he would continue to ardently support New Hampshire's place as the nation's first primary.
"Here in New Hampshire, you don't have anywhere to hide. It's just you and the people," he said. "In New Hampshire, you have something special. And may it always be protected."
New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner is bound by state law that calls for the nation's first primary to be held in New Hampshire's and at least seven days before any similar event. With Nevada holding its caucus Jan. 14, and Iowa set for Jan. 3, New Hampshire would not be able to set its primary for Jan. 10, meaning Gardner is considering dates in December for the first-in-the-nation primary, though he and numerous prominent national Republicans, including 2008 presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have appealed to Nevada officials to move their caucus to Jan. 17.
Other candidates, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been leading most polls, have so far declined to say they will boycott the Nevada caucus.
Huntsman, who in addition to serving as Utah's governor has served as an ambassador to China under President Barack Obama, recently moved his campaign headquarters from Florida to New Hampshire in the hopes that a good showing in the New Hampshire primary will give him a boost.
He has trailed the other candidates in most polls, though he placed third in a recent Suffolk University poll among New Hampshire GOP voters, with 10 percent. And he was surprised by the unexpectedly large turnout.
"I thank you all for coming out," he said. "This was an event where I didn't know if we'd have two or 200."
The crowd was, for the most part, friendly to Huntsman, asking him questions about the economy.
But Jillian Dubois of Hudson challenged him on his position of abolishing the Affordable Care Act in favor of allowing states to "experiment for three, four or five years." She said her brother, David Andrews, was able to remain on their parents' health care plan, which allowed him to afford a recent rotator cuff surgery.
"That was because of the Affordable Care Act," she said. "I don't think we have time for states to become test tubes to experiment with this."
Huntsman did not back down, saying he would still work to repeal the Act, which he called "Obamacare." He said he would rather duplicate an option he helped make available in Utah - low premium coverage of catastrophic events designed for "young immortals" who otherwise wouldn't purchase health insurance.
"What we can't afford is to have $1 trillion dumped on this economy," he said. "Ultimately, I think (the low-premium coverage) would be a way to cover more people like your brother."
Huntsman answered questions on a host of topics, including energy policy, illegal immigration, introducing a "means test" for Social Security and Medicare benefits as one way to rein in costs and the war in Afghanistan.
"We've routed the Taliban from power. We've had free elections. We've uprooted Al-Qaeda and we've killed Osama bin Laden," he said. "We don't need 100,000 troops nationbuilding elsewhere when our nation needs to be built back up. Ladies and gentlemen, I say to you that the time is right for us to bring those troops home."