MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, the third-place finisher in the New Hampshire primary, said he would remain in the race and go on to South Carolina.
To cheers from his supporters, Huntsman took the stage around 9:30 p.m. last night and vowed to continue competing. “I’d say 3rd place is a ticket to ride,” he said. “Hello, South Carolina!”
Huntsman paid homage to the voters in New Hampshire, where he was propelled from behind in the polls through a strong campaign of retail politics.
“We have pounded the pavement. We have shaken hands, had conversations, won people over person by person,” Huntsman said, as his wife, Mary Kaye, stood by his side and his daughters and son-in law stood behind him. “This is the old way to get politics done in New Hampshire. My confidence in the system is reborn because of the people of New Hampshire.”
With 91 percent of precincts reporting, Mitt Romney had 39.4 percent of the votes, compared with 22.9 percent for Ron Paul, 16.8 percent for Huntsman, 9.4 percent for Newt Gingrich, 9.3 percent for Rick Santorum, and less than 1 percent for Rick Perry.
Several supporters said they were disappointed in a third-place finish -- given the intense effort Huntsman put in in the state. “I was hoping it would be second place,” said Karen Schmidt, a stay-at-home mother and independent voter from Hollis, N.H. But Schmidt said she remained hopeful that Huntsman would continue fighting.
Former Republican state Senator Jim Rubens, a Huntsman supporter, said he believed Huntsman was still the most electable candidate in the general election because of his appeal to independent voters. While Romney has run in two elections in New Hampshire, and Paul has run for president three times, Rubens said Huntsman has “come out of nowhere.”
“He showed up in the state in June and moved very significantly in this complicated, crowded field,” Rubens said. “I’m happy.”
Huntsman made the state an important part of his strategy early on, visiting three times before he launched his campaign June 21, and flying to New Hampshire the day of his announcement.
Since then, he has relied on retail politics here, holding 170 events across the state, some attended by a few dozen voters.
In September, after gaining little traction in the polls, Huntsman moved his national headquarters from Florida to New Hampshire. He ignored the Iowa caucuses to campaign almost exclusively in this state. But he surged only in the last week, suddenly attracting new supporters.
Huntsman drew support from independents and moderates who were looking for a candidate other than Romney with executive experience and the ability to work across party lines.
Steve Bykowski, an independent voter from Derry who works at State Street Bank, said he voted for Huntsman. “I like his economic policies, that he will tackle the too-big-to-fail banks,” Bykowski said. “He knows China, which is a big plus. He seems sincere.”
Huntsman’s biggest challenge has been proving his conservative credentials. He supports civil unions and believes in the science of climate change.
Romney over the weekend criticized Huntsman for serving as ambassador to China under President Obama. Huntsman fought back, arguing that while he put his country first, Romney puts politics first. He also unveiled a new slogan: “Country First.”
Moving forward, Huntsman will have to prove he can raise money and organize in later states. The former Utah governor, whose family owns a chemical corporation, put more than $2 million of his own money into the campaign. And his super PAC spent more than $2 million on advertising.
Huntsman already failed to get his name on the ballot in Virginia and Arizona. He leaves for South Carolina Wednesday.
From the beginning, Huntsman stressed the need for tax reform, regulatory reform, and energy independence. He talked about creating jobs through manufacturing, and stressed his record as Utah governor, cutting taxes and promoting job creation. A former ambassador to China and Singapore, his foreign policy focused on economics over military might. He called for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. In the closing days of his campaign, Huntsman spoke about the lack of trust people have in government, vowing to support congressional term limits.
This summer, the campaign experienced organizational mishaps and inner turmoil. In August, Huntsman replaced his New Hampshire campaign manager.
Huntsman strategist John Weaver said Monday, “All campaigns make mistake. The one that makes the fewest mistakes wins.”
Shira Schoenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.