140 Hear Huntsman in Stratham
Three weeks to the hour before polls close on primary day, Jon Huntsman drew 140 people to Stratham Town Hall Tuesday night. It was his 128th campaign event in New Hampshire this year, and the fifth time this observer has watched him live on the stump.
Huntsman needs to beat Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, or preferably both in New Hampshire, and with only 20 shopping days left, one might expect Huntsman to offer sharp contrasts with other candidates.
Nope. At the town hall meeting, Huntsman deliberately passed on multiple opportunities to draw distinctions with other candidates and mentioned only one – Mitt Romney – by name. His 21 minute stump speech was interrupted by applause just once – when Huntsman said “I’m not going to sign any silly pledges.” During Q&A, Huntsman took 23 minutes to field just five questions, giving far longer answers than necessary and hardly the crisp, two-minute summaries one might expect of a candidate who has done more events and taken more questions from New Hampshire voters than any other candidate this cycle. It was sort of appearance that wins respect, admiration, and certainly some votes, while also probably leaving too many attendees not quite convinced.
Huntsman began by stressing his electability, then moved to the themes of America facing a financial deficit and a trust deficit. On the former, he used an effective story about a sole proprietor he’d met at Lindy’s Diner in Keene who couldn’t expand his operation because of lack of credit – which Huntsman tied to Dodd-Frank – or purchase health insurance.
Speaking of a lack of trust in national institutions, Huntsman decried crony capitalism in Washington and a revolving door between Congress and influence peddlers who trade in relationships. If Huntsman meant Newt Gingrich, he didn’t mention him.
Huntsman described our foreign policy as being a relic of the Cold War, noting that the U.S. maintains more than 700 installations in 60 countries around the world. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Russians aren’t coming anymore!” Huntsman said to smiles and nods.
Striking a bit of populist tone, Huntsman included Wall Street among the untrusted national institutions. “Capitalism without failure isn’t capitalism,” he said, pointing to bailouts that treat large banks like public utilities.
Mary Kay Huntsman then spoke for five minutes, attesting to the good character of her husband of 28 years with whom she is raising seven children.
The first questioner told Huntsman, “You scratch where I itch,” but expressed skepticism about his ability to win the nomination. Huntsman responded by saying among those giving him another look are pundits Erick Erickson and George Will.
The second question concerned Iran and elicited a very strong answer from Huntsman reflecting his diplomatic experience. “I think in Iran, they’ve already made the fundamental decision to go nuclear,” Huntsman said. He noted that countries like Iran look at North Korea, which has nuclear capabilities; and Libya, which abandoned nuclear research; and conclude they’d prefer to be like North Korea. Iranian nukes will lead to proliferation involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, Huntsman predicted. Huntsman said he can’t live with a nuclear Iran and would let the mullahs in Tehran know all options to prevent that from happening were on the table. Huntsman could have pointed out that another candidate, Ron Paul, can live with a nuclear Iran but let it go unsaid.
The third question was about whether it is better to fix Obamacare or repeal it. Huntsman came down on the side of repeal and starting over, but went on far too long and, once again, did not use the opportunity to draw any contrasts with other candidates such as Mitt Romney.
The fourth question, concerning the merits of natural gas, sounded like it came from a paid advocate. Huntsman’s for natural gas (who isn’t?) but he gave a much too long answer, especially given the planted feel of the original inquiry. The advocate was happy to hear a long answer about his pet issue, but other voters would probably have preferred to use the time to hear Huntsman’s views on another subject.
The final question concerned the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction plan. Huntsman praised Paul Ryan’s proposal but, once again, passed on the opportunity to contrast his position with that of, say, Newt Gingrich.
Watching Huntsman greet voters after the formal presentation was also instructive. He listened politely to one voter, but allowed her to monopolize his time for at least three minutes while other voters waited to shake his hand – or grew tired of waiting, and left. It’s little things like that that make the difference between winning some votes and maximizing votes, between earning converts and creating evangelists.
firstname.lastname@example.org, December 20, 2011