Will Huntsman's New Hampshire-or-Bust Strategy Pay Off?

Will Huntsman's New Hampshire-or-Bust Strategy Pay Off?

By Scott Conroy - September 30, 2011

Though it had already been apparent, Jon Huntsman on Thursday removed any remaining doubt that he is now for all intents and purposes a one-state candidate.

In a move that acknowledged financial difficulties and the do-or-die scenario it faces in the nation’s first primary, the Huntsman campaign announced that it will shift its national headquarters from Orlando, Fla., to Manchester, N.H., next month.

Additionally, a significant number of staff members will lose their jobs, RCP has learned.

With New Hampshire voters heading to the polls in a little more than four months, Huntsman’s decision to hunker down in the state will not inspire much confidence in his ability to compete with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry on a national level, at least for the time being.

But conversations with several unaligned observers of New Hampshire presidential politics revealed a consensus that there is time for Huntsman to turn things around and reason to believe that he might be on the verge of doing just that.

Some of the evidence is anecdotal. Pat Griffin of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, for instance, has noticed a trend as he has driven along Elm Street -- the main drag through Manchester -- on his way to work this week.

On each subsequent morning, the gathering of young people waving “Jon Huntsman for President” signs on one particular street corner has gotten a bit larger.

“It’s like all of the sudden, Huntsman has a real presence here,” Griffin said. “Now, do you win by waving signs? No. Does it suggest some juice, commitment and energy to New Hampshire? Yes. There are kids on cots all over this state right now who have just come in the last week or two for Huntsman.”

Huntsman is also trending positively in the RealClearPolitics average of New Hampshire polls and will seek additional encouragement in the closely watched WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll, the latest iteration of which will be released in a matter of days.

Following an end-of-the-quarter fundraising push, Huntsman will embark on a robust eight-day campaign swing through the Granite State next week that will lead up to the next GOP debate at Dartmouth College on Oct. 11.

Huntsman already has the largest New Hampshire operation of any candidate in the race -- an effort helmed by Sarah Crawford Stewart, whose talents are a source of widespread admiration in the state’s political circles.

“We were scoffed at it all summer, but we built a very methodical organization in the state, and there’s no way to do that other than through hard work,” said John Weaver, Huntsman’s chief national strategist. “The first thing we needed to do was build up our organization, and we’ve done that. I think our organization rivals Mitt Romney’s. I like it better because it’s fresher, hungrier, and it’s a good mixture of people who have actually won the previous two primaries and new people who have never been involved before.”

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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