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In N.H., Huntsman Media Circus Begins Without a Hitch

In N.H., Huntsman Media Circus Begins Without a Hitch

By Erin McPike - May 20, 2011

HANOVER, N.H. - It was only his first retail event on the campaign trail, but it created such a media frenzy that it felt like primary day was already upon us.

The New York Times and the Washington Post each have not one but two reporters in town to cover Jon Huntsman's New Hampshire debut this week. ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos rolled up to Jesse's Restaurant in a black sedan before Huntsman arrived; the likely candidate will be featured on "Good Morning America" Friday. And it was obvious there were more members of the media packed into the restaurant's back room for Huntsman's stump speech than New Hampshire voters.

But drawing a huge crowd of voters right from the starting gate was never the point; if things go as planned, those will come in time. Instead, Huntsman's first event was designed to show him off as a candidate, an extraordinary man who can interact effortlessly with ordinary people.

Still, after the former Utah governor's team dropped him into this college town, home to Dartmouth College of the Ivy League, there was no escaping a grilling from the Granite Staters who have made it their trademark to be the toughest questioners in the country. Of course, John Weaver, Huntsman's chief strategist, has New Hampshire and its Republican primary electorate pretty well figured out, having had a hand in both of John McCain's presidential campaigns -- so you know there's a high level of confidence in how Huntsman handles himself in these situations.

The first question posed to him immediately after he rolled out his stump speech went like this: "Now am I going to get the chance for more than one question, or am I just going to get my one and that's it?"

The crowd laughed, snickered, gave a prolonged "ooooohh," and then turned to Huntsman, who didn't flinch. He told the Dartmouth student, "Shoot. Fire away."

Harry Enten, a senior, asked Huntsman first to comment on the Obama administration's approach to Israel. Then he said he wanted to work on a campaign this year and asked, "Why should I go to work for you?"

The former ambassador to China said he hadn't heard the president's Mideast speech earlier that day, but offered some boilerplate observations about needing to build trust in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In response to the second question, he said: "All I would ask is that you get to know us" and added, "We are approaching this campaign with honest and honorable intentions."

He got a couple of questions about energy policy, one about Afghanistan, and another about his just-concluded service in the Obama administration. In each case, those who asked the questions said afterward that they were generally pleased with the answers.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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