Reporting from Concord, N.H. — Jon Huntsman, showing more aggression to front-runner Mitt Romney than he has throughout much of the campaign, on Monday hit the former Massachusetts governor for saying that he liked to fire people, and for criticizing Huntsman's service as President Obama’s ambassador to China.
“It’s become abundantly clear over the last couple days what differentiates Gov. Romney and me. I will always put my country first. It seems Gov. Romney believes in putting politics first,” Huntsman told reporters gathered in frigid Eagle Square in Concord. “Gov. Romney enjoys firing people, I enjoy creating jobs.”
The "country first" remark was in reference to a heated exchange between the two men during a debate on Sunday. Romney criticized Huntsman for working for Obama while Romney was helping GOP candidates get elected. Huntsman, in his best debate performance to date, responded that “this country is divided … because of attitudes like that,” prompting loud applause from the audience. “The American people are tired of the partisan division.”
This exchange is also the subject of an ad that Huntsman began airing on Monday.
The second slap, about how Romney enjoys firing people, was in response to a comment that Romney made earlier in the day that has been seized upon by his rivals on both sides of the aisle.
“I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy,” Romney said while campaigning in Nashua. “It also means that if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know if someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say, you know, I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.”
Huntsman said this shows how Romney is removed from the perils facing Americans. “It may be that he’s slightly out of touch with the economic reality playing out in America right now and that’s a dangerous place for somebody to be,” Huntsman said.
Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, has pegged his presidential bid on New Hampshire. Romney maintains a massive lead in polling, though Huntsman has been showing a small burst of momentum in recent days. Although his chances of taking the top spot are virtually non-existent, he said a strong showing would give him a bounce going into South Carolina and Florida.
“Our strategy moving forward is getting a head of steam out of New Hampshire. We have got to prove the point of electability here. This is why the New Hampshire primary is so critically important. Having established that and I think we’re going to find that tomorrow night, we can then move on to South Carolina,” he said. “But you’ve got to prove a point that you can move a market first and foremost, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing. I’m the underdog.
"We’re working aggressively all the way to the finish line. It’s about getting out the vote, it’s about getting people to the polls and I’m not going to rest till we cross the finish line.”