Huntsman Doubles Down in Dover

130 voters turned out to hear Jon Huntsman in Dover Monday night.

If Jon Huntsman doesn’t carry Dover next week, it won’t be for lack of effort. Huntsman has done so many events in New Hampshire this cycle that he’s starting his second lap in some towns. His town hall meeting Monday night at the McConnell Center was his second such event in the same place in as many months. The meeting on October 30 drew 30 voters. Monday night’s drew 130.

Of the six times I’ve seen Huntsman on the stump this year, this may have been his strongest performance yet. His 24 minute stump speech elicited bursts of applause several times – not a standard occurrence at a Huntsman event – and he was more deft during 25 minutes of Q&A, during which he fielded seven questions. He was accompanied by two of his daughters, Mary Anne and Abby, and his wife, Mary Kaye, who opened the meeting with kind words praising her husband.

His stump speech continues to hinge on what Huntsman sees as the two deficits affecting the country – one financial, the other of trust.

Huntsman predicted that unless change comes toWashingtonnow, “We will see the end of the American Century by 2050.” Speaking of his economic plan which eliminates all tax deductions and loopholes, Huntsman said, “We cannot afford the luxury of sacred cows.”

Huntsman then turned to what he termed a lack of trust in national institutions. For a candidate who assured his audience he wouldn’t pander, Huntsman offered what sounded like a populist attack on Congress, calling for term limits, an end to the revolving door between Capitol Hill and lobbying, and to “cut their pay until they can balance the damn budget.” With congressional approval hovering around ten percent, it’s no surprise that these comments were met with applause.

A statement that “It’s time to bring our troops home” also generated applause. “Afghanistan is not our nation’s future.Iraqis not our nation’s future,” Huntsman said.

Making his final pitch, Huntsman spoke of next week’s primary. “You can do what the establishment wants you to do. You have a good candidate, Mitt Romney.” Saying he likes and respects Romney, Huntsman also said that a Romney presidency would be “a status quo presidency.” It was the only time Huntsman referred directly to an opponent all night.

Huntsman listens patiently as New Durham resident Bob Kroepel tries to explain an idea.

In Q&A, Huntsman was asked how he would allocate foreign aid. Huntsman said he’d watched other candidates say foreign aid should go to zero or that we should “start a war with China” (something Rick Santorum said, though Huntsman did not name the author). Huntsman dismissed that approach as simplistic and designed to get a candidate cheap applause. Huntsman said that aid that expands markets for American products, supports the rule of law and human rights, and that extends our values can be good. Later, in response to a question from a 20 year Navy vet about strengthening the military, Huntsman spoke of “burden sharing” with other nations, and cited Vietnam as an unlikely emerging ally when it comes to keeping the South China Sea region open for trade. These were the nuanced answers you would expect from a diplomat.

Asked whether he though the Occupy Wall Street movement was an analog to the Tea Party or just an anti-capitalist rant, Huntsman gave another nuanced response. He sympathized with the protesters’ anger, but added, “Of course I don’t like aspects of their anti-capitalist message.” He fell back on the right to protest, contrasting free speech here with what he’d witnessed as ambassador to China, where “you get more than five people on a corner, they’re taken out” by state-run security forces.

Other questions concerned Simpson-Bowles (Huntsman supports the bulk of that deficit reduction proposal) and whether Huntsman supported the portion of the Affordable Care Act that requires coverage of pre-existing conditions (Huntsman said yes, that was a part worth looking at). A well-informed question about health care from aRochesterdoctor prompted Huntsman to suggest the man run for Congress himself, and Huntsman drew applause when he said “wellness and personal responsibility” come into play when it comes to keeping health care costs down.

New Durham’s Robert Kroepel, who ran for governor in 2002, advocated for a referendum mechanism for recalling elected officials, and was prepared with a written plan, a copy of which he gave to Huntsman. “Only inNew Hampshire,” Huntsman responded, smiling and shaking his head.

fergus@ferguscullen.com, January 2, 2012

Author: Fergus Cullen

Fergus Cullen is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party (2007-2008) and an editorial page columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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