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Jon Huntsman heartened by Rick Santorum's rise in Iowa

January 03, 2012|By Maeve Reston
  • Jon Huntsman meets with students during an event at Strong Foundations Charter School in Pembroke, N.H.
Jon Huntsman meets with students during an event at Strong Foundations… (Matt Rourke / Associated…)

Reporting from North Hampton, N.H. — If any candidate has taken pleasure in watching former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's surge in Iowa, it is Jon Huntsman Jr., who has focused his presidential campaign almost exclusively on winning New Hampshire.

After trailing their rivals in the polls for much of this year, Santorum and Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, found kinship in the fact that they were often relegated to far ends of the stage during the GOP debates -- struggling to get a word in as more prominent contenders such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry dominated the discussion.

"Gets a little lonely over here in Siberia," Huntsman noted during a November debate. "Tell me about it," Santorum replied from the other end of the stage.

As he has toured New Hampshire over the last few days, Huntsman said he was heartened by Santorum's rise -– calling it a vindication of the candidates who have put the most shoe leather, rather than advertising dollars, into their bids for the Republican nomination.

"I think there's a trend that's occurring here," Huntsman said after a recent event in North Hampton. "I think it's directly proportional to the amount of time that people spend in the state."

Though Huntsman has predicted that he will win the New Hampshire primary, he still has a long way to go to catch Romney; the former Massachusetts governor was leading Huntsman by 33 percentage points in Tuesday's Suffolk University/7 News two-day tracking poll.

"I think Rick is bringing it home in Iowa. I think we're going to bring it home here in New Hampshire," said Huntsman, who was in third place in the poll behind Texas Rep. Ron Paul. "The work that we've put forward in these states is being recognized -– and we're being vindicated in a sense. It's isn't all about Facebook and Twitter; it isn't all about just the old artificiality of politics; it's still grinding it out on the ground."

Santorum said Monday that he had held 377 events in Iowa. On Tuesday night, Huntsman will hold his 150th event in New Hampshire -- appearing in Peterborough with former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge -- his last town hall before a slew of other candidates, including Santorum, arrive in the state to compete for votes before the Jan. 10 primary.

"It's been wonderfully quiet," Huntsman said. "Like the calm before the storm -– the inevitable category 5 hurricane that's about to hit."

maeve.reston@latimes.com

Robin Abcarian in Des Moines contributed to this report.

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