Huntsman faces steep climb beyond NH
Wednesday , January 11, 2012 - 9:25 AM
MANCHESTER, N.H.-- Jon Huntsman may have clawed his way to a third-place finish in New Hampshire, but he must overcome major challenges to remain competitive in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
The former Utah governor is virtually unknown in South Carolina, which hosts the next presidential contest in just 10 days. Having essentially lived in New Hampshire since October, he has visited South Carolina just twice over the last two months. And with front-runner Mitt Romney already claiming wins in New Hampshire and Iowa, Huntsman has little time or money to improve his standing.
Still, he says a strong finish will create a "new order of the universe."
"I'd say third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen. Hello, South Carolina," he told cheering supporters Tuesday night.
But South Carolina isn't quite as excited to greet Huntsman.
"If the election were held tomorrow, he would be a footnote," said Rich Bolen, chairman of the Lexington County GOP, in an area that boasts the highest concentration of Republican voters in South Carolina.
The problem isn't that Huntsman is perceived as being too moderate for the conservative voters in the South's first primary. The problem is that voters don't know who he is.
"People don't know that he's moderate," said Bolen, who hasn't endorsed anyone in the race. "They don't know anything about him."
Huntsman registered support from just 1 percent of likely South Carolina primary voters in a CNN poll conducted last week. And in Florida, which holds the subsequent contest on Jan. 31, Huntsman was at 2 percent in a Quinnipiac poll released this week.
The campaign isn't exactly starting from scratch.
He has four staffers on the ground in South Carolina, according to state director Joel Sawyer, a former state party executive director. And Huntsman has won endorsements from a handful of prominent local Republicans, including Alan Wilson, the state attorney general.
"We have a challenge and an opportunity in South Carolina in that a lot of voters will be taking their first look at Gov. Huntsman when he gets here," Sawyer said. "The advantage we have is the more people learn about Gov. Huntsman, the more they like. The more they learn about the rest of the folks, the less they like."
Huntsman was a bit more optimistic.
"Our name recognition is low, predictably, because you need a market-moving event for people to begin paying attention to you," he said on CNN before the polls closed. "New Hampshire will be a market-moving event for us. And as it moves downstream then into South Carolina, where we hope to find ourselves tomorrow, people will begin paying attention to the new order of the universe, which will be much different than we're thinking about it today."
But Huntsman needs money to capitalize on the New Hampshire finish. And fundraising has been a consistent challenge for much of the year.
As he began to rise in the polls over the last week, the campaign reported a slight uptick in online donations. Campaign spokesman Tim Miller reports raising $100,000 last Saturday alone, the largest single day of fundraising since Huntsman launched his campaign.
That's not enough to help him keep pace with his rivals. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum raised $1 million the day after he finished the Iowa caucuses in a virtual tie with Romney.
While money isn't everything, it's important -- particularly for a candidate who isn't well known -- to purchase television ads that can reach a broad segment of the population quickly. It's unclear if Huntsman will have the money to purchase air time in South Carolina. While he's loaned his campaign more than $2 million from his personal fortune, he's been reluctant to dig much deeper recently.
He will get some outside help. A so-called super PAC run by Huntsman allies began airing television ads in South Carolina this week.
But the other candidates will be on the air there as well. Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have all vowed to do well in South Carolina. And Romney, buoyed by his Iowa and New Hampshire victories, is leading the polls.
"There's too much other noise out there, too much other static," Bolen said. Huntsman "has no shot."
Huntsman was hosting two town hall-style meetings in South Carolina on Wednesday, his first campaign stops in the state in more than a month.