- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2012

NASHUA, N.H. — Jon Huntsman Jr.’s Monday began like most of his days recently: The former Utah governor pulled on his cowboy boots and headed out to pound the New Hampshire pavement, looking for support for his presidential bid one voter at a time.

With the rest of the GOP field battling it out in Iowa, Mr. Huntsman had the Granite State to himself - the latest reminder of how much the candidate has riding on a strong finish in next week’s New Hampshire primary.

“We’re giving it everything we got and we are taking it to the very end,” Mr. Huntsman said while campaigning. “Voters will reward those who have actually been on the ground and put in the shoe leather, put in the time and the effort, allowing the voters to get to know their heart and soul.”

Mr. Huntsman, the former Obama administration ambassador to China, moved his campaign headquarters in late September from Florida to New Hampshire, where he’s since held more than 140 events, staking his longshot candidacy on the state’s Jan. 10 contest.

One week out, polls have him essentially running neck-and-neck with Newt Gingrich for third behind Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who holds a comfortable lead over the field.

Mr. Romney also appears to be winning the sign wars here and enjoys strong support from some of the state’s biggest political figures, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Sen. Judd Gregg and former Gov. John H. Sununu.

Mr. Romney campaigned here Friday and Saturday before returning to Iowa to deliver his last-minute sales pitch to caucuses-goers there. He is set to return Wednesday to New Hampshire, where Mr. Paul on Monday started running a new “Believe” ad that paints himself as the one consistent candidate in the GOP field.

Minutes after meeting with Mr. Huntsman on Monday, Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau told reporters that, “I still think it’s anyone’s game.”

Once the dust settles in Iowa, she said, Mr. Huntsman is likely to make some noise in New Hampshire. She predicted a top-three finish for him: “He has been quietly working towards gaining people’s respect and confidence.”

Mr. Huntsman, one of the wealthiest candidates in the GOP field, announced on New Year’s Day that he’d match every donation to his campaign through Wednesday - part of a drive to buy air time for an ad highlighting the flat tax he enacted in Utah, the Wall Street Journal’s praise for his economic plan and his desire to end the war in Afghanistan.

Still Mr. Huntsman is struggling to overcome some of the advantages his rivals enjoy in New Hampshire.

Mr. Romney governed in neighboring Massachusetts and owns a home here. Former House speaker Gingrich, in the years since leaving Congress, has become a familiar face to New Hampshire’s GOP voters through his regular appearances on cable news. And both Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul, with their previous presidential runs, have experience putting together campaigns in the state.

Some of the people Mr. Huntsman interacted with here on Monday didn’t seem to know who he was. A man called out “senator” in an attempt to grab his attention, while a 65-year-old woman at a diner said she was still leaning toward Mr. Romney, after meeting Mr. Huntsman and telling him “I don’t know about you.”

Jim Milton, a 54-year-old self-employed businessman, described Mr. Huntsman as a “B candidate” and noted that he had come onto the “scene a little later than some of the other people.”

But there were good signs as well for Mr. Huntsman. Rev. Bruce Bradshaw, a pastor at a local Methodist church, promised he’d support him and showered praise on Mr. Huntsman’s daughters for their television appearances.

And there was Jimmy Pacheco, a 68-year-old who sat in front of a hearty-looking bowl of chicken noodle soup. He said Mr. Huntsman’s focus on New Hampshire shows “he cares about us.”

“I think I will vote for this man,” Mr. Pacheco said. “He’s the only one I’ve met.”