PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman on Friday urged New Hampshire voters to stand up to the status quo and reject Mitt Romney, while a group of his supporters prepared a new television ad calling Romney a chameleon willing to do anything to get elected.
The $300,000 ad campaign is expected to begin running across New Hampshire this weekend, according to an adviser for the organization known as Our Destiny PAC. The adviser was not authorized to comment publicly.
"Two serious candidates remain," a voice says in the ad, which flashes images of Huntsman, the former Utah governor, and Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and front-runner in New Hampshire. "One willing to say anything, be anything. One who can actually do the job."
It continues: "One state can stop the chameleon. Vote Jon Huntsman."
Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China in the Obama administration, has not been anywhere near that pointed in his criticism of Romney. Speaking to employees at a Portsmouth software company Friday, he said Romney would be unlikely to change the "trust deficit" in Washington given that Romney has "half of Congress supporting him."
"Who's going to want to change anything when you've got the status quo supporting you?" Huntsman said. "You can have a candidate who's going to fight for change who is not going to be in the hip pocket of special interest groups, or you're going to have the status quo choice."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also wouldn't do anything to restore trust in Washington, Huntsman said.
"Speaker Gingrich is not the kind of person who is going to be able to deal effectively with the trust issue because you can't deal effectively with the trust issue if you are a fixture of Washington, D.C., and have been for 40 years."
Huntsman, who is skipping Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, is betting his candidacy on a strong finish in New Hampshire's Jan. 10 Republican primary, which is open to independents as well as registered Republicans.
Huntsman entered the presidential contest with great expectations earlier in the year. But national polling suggests he's still largely unknown to many Republican voters. He's also struggled to raise enough money to pay for his own television advertising campaigns. On Wednesday, he told The Associated Press he's likely to leave the race unless he finishes in the top three in New Hampshire.
Pam Hicks, one of the software company workers, said she was 100 percent adamant before meeting Huntsman that she would not vote for him. After the event, Hicks said she was reconsidering although she doesn't like his anti-abortion views or his opposition to gay marriage, which is legal in New Hampshire.
"We believe nobody has the right to tell us how to live our lives," she said.
Still, Hicks said she planned to do more research on Huntsman.
"He needs a more serious look," she said.
In perhaps further proof that Huntsman's efforts in New Hampshire are paying off, voter Cynthia Ouellette echoed Hicks' sentiments hours later in Canterbury, where Huntsman attracted about 150 people to a town hall meeting. Like Hicks, Ouellette said she was sure she wasn't going to vote for Huntsman – until she met him in person.
She described losing her teaching job because of budget cuts and grilled Huntsman about how he would be different from former President George W. Bush.
"He's the only one I've been able to meet, and I was impressed by his honesty and openness," she said.
Our Destiny PAC has now spent roughly $1.9 million on New Hampshire advertising to help Huntsman. That's more than any other outside group or other campaign has spent in the state, according to numbers obtained by The Associated Press.