Huffpost Politics

New Hampshire Primary 2012: Jon Huntsman Hopes For Strong Showing

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CONCORD, N.H. -- Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman says if he can chug out of the New Hampshire primary "with a head of steam" he can prove he's the Republican candidate who can defeat Barack Obama.

With Mitt Romney favored in Tuesday's voting and most of the rest of the field vying to become the conservative alternative, Huntsman is taking a different path. He says the GOP needs a nominee who can reach beyond Republicans to win over people who voted for Obama in 2008. Huntsman says his supporters include independents and even a few Democrats.

Asked on NBC's "Today" show whether he would leave the race if he doesn't place at least third in New Hampshire, Huntsman declined to say.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman likes to express his excitement about running for president by exclaiming: "Gimme a break! It's the New Hampshire primary!"

It's part of the awestruck, aw-shucks shtick Huntsman uses in when he marvels at the small state's outsized influence on presidential politics. But it also sums up his whole campaign: He needs a break in New Hampshire to keep going.

Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses to stake his candidacy on a strong showing in Tuesday's primary, has struggled to win over New Hampshire's conservative Republicans. He's been making an aggressive play for independent voters, who can vote in the GOP primary, and has shown signs of gaining ground in the last few days.

Huntsman, 51, also has been making the most of his weekend debate response to front-runner Mitt Romney, who criticized Huntsman for serving as the Obama administration's ambassador to China.

Huntsman quickly adopted Sen. John McCain's old campaign slogan "Country First" and had large signs displaying that message at his final campaign event Monday night, a rally in Exeter. He told the crowd to remember the word "trust" when they vote Tuesday, saying it encompasses his entire campaign.

"It's going to take us all the way to the finish line tomorrow," he said, "and we're going to surprise the heck out of `em!"

That confidence was reminiscent of the Huntsman who proclaimed months ago that he would win the New Hampshire primary. But he switched to predictions about "beating market expectations," and two weeks ago suggested that anything below a third-place finish in New Hampshire would mean an end to his campaign.

In the past week, Huntsman cast himself as the underdog fighting against Romney, whom he called the "status quo candidate." After he campaigned in seven communities Monday, Huntsman's only public appearance scheduled Tuesday is a noontime visit to a Manchester polling place.

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