Jon Huntsman speaks during a town hall in Pelham, N.H. (Elise Amendola / Associated…)
Reporting from Pelham, N.H. — Stepping back out on the campaign trail in New Hampshire after the Christmas break, GOP contender Jon Huntsman joined a chorus of his rivals Wednesday in criticizing Ron Paul – calling the Texas congressman "unelectable."
During a town hall style meeting in Pelham near the Massachusetts border Wednesday night, Huntsman urged voters to look beyond the polls and punditry to select their candidate. The former Utah governor called GOP frontunner Mitt Romney, who led his nearest rival by more than 25 points here in a new CNN poll, a product of "the establishment" and then moved on to Paul: "He's not electable at the end of the day," Huntsman told his audience. "Let's be real about it."
When asked by reporters to elaborate, Huntsman said Paul’s policies were "out there" and said voters would not support a candidate who advocates "isolationism when you’ve got threats like Iran that are on the ascent."
"Things like legalizing drugs – I just don’t think is a position that is going to sell with a lot people who are going to turn out and make a big difference in the end," he said. "You’ve got to get mainstream support to win the election, and I just don’t think he’s going to be able to get enough mainstream support to win."
While other Republican candidates have been pressed in recent days to say whether they would support Paul if he became the Republican nominee – Gingrich said he wouldn’t vote for the Texas congressman; Romney said he would – Huntsman declined to answer that question, calling it a hypothetical.
"I’m just making the case for electability," Huntsman said. "At the end of the day, we’ve got to win back some people who actually voted for Barack Obama just to make the math work…. I believe I’m the most electable candidate in the race right now."
Though Huntsman was among the candidates recently who did not gather enough signatures to qualify for the Virginia ballot – an organizational failure that a voter questioned him about during the town hall – he argued that a favorable result in New Hampshire would help his campaign overcome those kinds of hurdles.
"Our philosophy has always been that if we come out of New Hampshire with a head of steam, we’re going to do well in South Carolina; we’re going to do well in Florida, in which case you’re going to get the early delegate states who are going to want to be with the most electable candidate, which will have been proven at that point."
Huntsman said the recent revelations about incendiary newsletters published under Ron Paul’s name in the 1990s had also raised questions about the Texas congressman’s electability.
"You’ve got to own up to that history, and ultimately he’s going to have to explain that to the American people if he wants to get enough support to actually be a legitimate player."