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In bid for center, Huntsman defends work in Obama administration

January 08, 2012|By Robin Abcarian
  • The Republican candidates listen to a question from NBC's David Gregory in Concord, N.H., on Sunday during the second of their two debates in 10 hours.
The Republican candidates listen to a question from NBC's David Gregory… (Charles Krupa / Associated…)

Reporting from Manchester, N.H. — The beautiful part of holding two debates 10 hours apart -- beside the fact that the candidate are far more alert and energetic -- is that the wounds of the previous evening, still fresh, can be addressed. Yes, folks, we've got ourselves the equivalent of a debate do-over!

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was still stinging from Saturday night's debate when moderator David Gregory asked him Sunday morning which programs Huntsman would cut that would cause pain in this "age of austerity."

Huntsman ignored the question and chose to relitigate the moment from Saturday's debate when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attacked him for serving a Democratic president as ambassador to China. The context is important, however. Saturday night, Huntsman provided one of the strangest moments of the debate when he spoke in Mandarin to criticize Romney.

The Twitter universe went crazy with that one, and perhaps Huntsman was stung by the reaction. So he took the opportunity Sunday to turn the tables on his front-runner nemesis, and played the patriot card.

"A lot of people are tuning in this morning and I am sure they are terribly confused after watching all this political spin up here," said Huntsman. "I was criticized last night by Gov. Romney for putting my country first. I just want to remind the people here in New Hampshire and throughout the United States" -- and here, he was interrupted by applause -- "he criticized me while he was out raising money for serving my country in China, like my two sons who are in the United States Navy. They are not asking what the affiliation of the president is. I want to be clear, I will always put my country first. I think that's important."

Romney, however, was not about to back down, or apologize. And he went for the jugular against Huntsman, hitting him for something that has undermined his standing as a Republican with sterling conservative credentials.

"I just think most likely that the person who should represent our party running against President Obama is not someone who called him a 'remarkable leader' and went to be his ambassador in China."

Huntsman drew a big round of applause when he replied: "This country is divided because of attitudes like that."

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