Jon Huntsman pauses as he speaks to employees during a campaign stop at Goss… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
Reporting from Portsmouth, N.H. — The tight Iowa caucuses result Tuesday -- a measly eight-vote win by Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum -- was the closest contest in the state's history, besting on the Republican side the 1980 caucuses won by George H.W. Bush narrowly over Ronald Reagan.
And yet, the New Hampshire primary that followed just weeks later produced the biggest blowout in the modern history of the contest -- a 27-point Reagan landslide.
If polls are to be believed, next week's result could rival that. The latest Suffolk University tracking poll has Romney leading Ron Paul by 23 points.
Barring a late surge -- be it from caucuses runner-up Santorum, libertarian favorite Ron Paul or New Hampshire-or-bust hopeful Jon Huntsman -- the real race is among those candidates for second place.
Such was the declaration by longtime Union Leader chief political scribe John DiStaso, who wrote in his weekly "Granite Status" column that the first in the nation primary "will likely have a large say — and possibly the final say — in who will be 'The Romney Alternative' as the race moves on to South Carolina next Wednesday."
Huntsman, campaigning in New Hampshire's Seacoast region Thursday, did his best to position himself as such. One voter asked him about his "David vs. Goliath" struggle -- a characterization the former Utah governor did not shy from.
"You have to have a market-moving event," Huntsman said when asked by voter John Troiano how he could slay the Goliath in the race, Romney. "I'm guessing that the work we’ve done in this state is going to create a market-moving event."
Huntsman for the second time this week invoked Santorum's surge to a near victory in Iowa as something he can potentially replicate.
"We're going to leave it to the political marketplace here, having done everything we know how to do, and leave it to the wisdom of the people in this state, who always have been able to prove in the past that underdogs can rise up and beat those Goliaths from time to time. That's the American political tradition in New Hampshire," he told the gathering of several dozen business leaders in Portsmouth.
One problem for Huntsman: Rick Santorum is also trying to replicate his Iowa surge here. But speaking with reporters after his event, Huntsman said his biggest foe at this point is time.
"We've got the tyranny of the clock against us right now," he said. "You never have enough time to cover every town hall meeting, every house party that you would like to cover before election day. But I do know this. Every event that we have had we’ve had a disproportionately high number of people sign up. And if we had enough time to cover every corner of this state I have no doubt that we would be in the poll position."