Hanover, N.H. -- If his debut last night as an unofficial presidential candidate is any indication, Jon Huntsman will have to work hard to win over New Hampshire voters -- not because he served in the Obama administration or holds moderate views, but because he'll have to crawl over swarms of reporters just to get to them. Billed as a low-key "meet and greet" at Jesse's Restaurant, the media that showed up easily outnumbered the diners. It was a little ridiculous. While introducing Huntsman, the event's host had to ask reporters to step back so that actual voters could hear him speak.
Huntsman seemed intent on presenting himself as pleasant and reasonable, and not someone who was grasping or overambitious. "We are in the early stages of due diligence," he said. He stuck to broad themes of American competitiveness and economic growth. "I think it's going to be about whether or not this country is ready for the 21st century," Huntsman said. "We can either choose to have a lost decade... or we can choose to have an industrial revolution."
Huntsman brought up the deficit, but without using the apocalyptic language that is de rigueur among most Republicans. At several points, he invoked his experience as ambassador to China. When he answered questions, he mainly steered clear of specifics and displayed a diplomat's talent for speaking well without saying much. On the issue that might be his greatest obstacle--his service in the Obama administration--Huntsman said simply that he had been asked to serve his country and had done so proudly. "His answer about Obama was perfect," Derek Summerville, a senior at nearby Dartmouth College, said afterward.
The reaction of the crowd was generally one of cautious approval, albeit with a healthy dose of skepticism. This being New Hampshire, Huntsman fielded several pointed questions from the knowledgeable audience, including one on environmental damage and his past support for cap-and-trade legislation. He reiterated his concern about global warming, but seemed to emphasize economic growth over reducing carbon emissions. "We need to work on initiatives that deal with emissions," he said. "There's no doubt about that. But we also need to remember that first and foremost in today's environment is economic strength and economic growth. We cannot rush into policy choices that are going to have an adverse effect on economic growth."
While Huntsman didn't make any Newt Gingrich-like gaffes, neither did he do much to convince his conservative audience that he has a real shot at winning. Several people told me that they had a hard time envisioning a path to the nomination for Huntsman. Melanie Wilcox, a Dartmouth sophomore and vice president of the College Republicans, did see a path for him, though presumably not the one Huntsman is seeking. "I think he'll be a good candidate in 2016," she said.
Drop-down image credit: AP