Jon Huntsman wants to make one thing clear to New Hampshire voters: he’s spent the most time of any candidate in the First-in-the-Nation Primary state, and he’s not leaving anytime soon.
“Does it mean that I’ve started to speak with a New Hampshire accent, does it mean that my campaign motto has become live free or die, does it mean that I’ve started ordering lobster rolls for breakfast lunch and dinner? Yes,” quipped the former Utah governor and international diplomat.
Speaking to a group of about 100 people at a town hall-style forum at the Portsmouth Elks Club, Huntsman focused on jobs and the economy and handed out copies of his recently unveiled economic plan.
“We are about to hand down the US to the next generation a country that is less good, less competitive, less productive and more saddled with debt than the country that we got,” he said.
Huntsman often referenced China, where he recently served as the U.S. Ambassador, in both a positive and negative light. “You walk the streets of Beijing and Shanghai and there’s energy,” he said, stating his view that America is “in a funk” and has lost some of its drive to innovate.
However, Huntsman said there may be a silver lining to the economic cloud hovering over the country.
“We have a unique opportunity to winning back our manufacturing muscle,” he said, explaining that he believes China’s hold on the market is decreasing. Within the next several years, Huntsman predicted that China’s economic growth will drop from current levels of 8-9 percent down to 4-6 percent due to rising labor costs and rampant corruption. He argued that China’s loss can be America’s gain if we put measures in place to enhance competitiveness, allowing us to bring lost manufacturing jobs back to the United States.
Huntsman also touted his record as a two-term Utah governor, pointing to his success at creating a market-based, low-cost health insurance option for uninsured young citizens, and his enactment of a flat tax in the state.
While he kept the tone of his remarks largely positive, several times referring to himself as an “optimist,” Huntsman didn’t entirely forgo the opportunity to take a few digs at his presidential rivals. While answering a question about healthcare, he stated that if voters need proof that mandates don’t work, they “just have to look at neighboring Massachusetts,” where Mitt Romney served as governor. Later, when discussing his economic plan, he panned other candidates’ offerings: “Who’s going to vote for a 9% increase in your sales tax?” he said, referring to Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, and continuing, “Romney is trimming around the edges as usual, and Rick Perry has got a flat tax that is optional.”
Issues aside, Huntsman sought to emphasize to the group how hard his campaign has been working in the Granite state. “We are working this state like no one else,” he said, alluding to the boots-on-the-ground campaigning and direct access to the candidate that NH voters are famous for requiring. He noted his low poll numbers, but spoke to progress made by his campaign and his desire to see sustained improvement as opposed to a brief turn as flavor of the month. Stating that if NH lives up to its reputation for rewarding the hard-working underdog, Huntsman says, “I like our chances here.”