Jon Huntsman speaks at a town hall meeting in Manchester, N.H., on Wednesday. (Michael A. Memoli / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Manchester, N.H. —
Jon Huntsman branded Mitt Romney as the choice of the party establishment in an appeal to independent-minded New Hampshire voters Wednesday.
"You're going to have a choice this election cycle. The establishment is going to tee up Mitt Romney and they’re going to say there’s your guy," Huntsman said at a town hall meeting at Manchester's public service utility. "But you know what? This nation can’t afford a status quo president."
Hours after Romney appeared elsewhere in Manchester with 2008 GOP nominee and two-time New Hampshire primary winner John McCain, Huntsman said his rival's support from dozens of Washington lawmakers showed he was not the candidate of change.
"You got 47 or 50 members of Congress behind you, supporting you. You think you’re going to be able to do what needs to be done with respect to term limits and closing the revolving door and tackling trust? No way, no how," he said.
Borrowing a page from McCain's 2008 playbook, Huntsman until this week had New Hampshire largely to himself while the other Republican candidates battled it out in Iowa. Not anymore. Still, the former Utah governor was careful to note the weeks he's spent in the state while others split time.
"There's no more important event than the New Hampshire primary," he said. "You all get to go out and change the course of our nation’s history by a vote. I say do votes matter? Look at Iowa. Eight votes. It’s real. Take your vote and invest it wisely."
Huntsman was joined by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who downplayed Romney's narrow victory in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses.
"If you had 25% of the registered Republicans voting, and you get 25% of that 25%, it means that you've excited about 6% of the registered Republicans in Iowa," he said. "I don’t think that’s a mandate for much. That’s certainly not a coronation."
Huntsman later went to his state campaign headquarters, where staff debuted a new television ad that would begin airing statewide in the campaign's final week.