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In South Carolina, a prolonged pitch from Jon Huntsman

January 12, 2012|By Alana Semuels
(David Goldman/AP )

Reporting from Charleston, S.C. — Jon Huntsman may not have high polling numbers in South Carolina, but he appears to have a lot of time to spend here, something evident Thursday morning as the Republican presidential candidate talked for an hour at a crowded restaurant -- so long that some people began to leave before he had finished speaking.

Speaking at a breakfast at the Honeycomb Cafe on Daniel Island hosted by the Berkeley County GOP, Huntsman, dressed in jeans, a maroon button-down shirt and a blazer, called on opponents to end partisan politicking.

"First and foremost, we have to remember that we are Americans, first and foremost," he said. "We're not going to be able to solve our long-term problems in this country until we come together as Americans."

For as long as his speech was, Huntsman repeated a few key points: his experience as ambassador to China and his service as governor of Utah. In Utah, he introduced a flat tax and worked with business leaders to make the state one of the top states in the country to do business, he said.

"I don't stand here as an academic," he said, comparing himself with other candidates. "I stand here as a practitioner."

Huntsman addressed two hot topics on the campaign trail: the deficit, which he called "a cancer metastasizing in our country" and the loss of manufacturing jobs, a trend he pledged to reverse as president. South Carolina had been a textile-manufacturing powerhouse until cheaper imports from overseas displaced many of the factories here.

Huntsman also spoke about what he called a "deficit of trust" in the government, pledging to introduce term limits in Congress and dock the pay of lawmakers until they came up with a balanced budget -– a pledge that got heavy applause from the audience.  

His wife, Mary Kaye, spoke first, urging voters to not just settle for a candidate -– advice she said she also gave to her seven children about picking who to date.

"We always tell our kids, make sure you never settle," she said to laughter from the audience.

By the end of Huntsman's speech, when he began to take questions -– and answering them with responses that were so detailed they went on for five minutes or more -– some of the people sitting the back of the restaurant had begun to look restless. They'd finished their eggs and grits, paid their checks and were beginning to eye the sunny day outside. Two by two, they started to leave -– and when Huntsman was done, there were a handful of empty chairs in a room that had been standing-room-only earlier.

But those who stayed said it was worth the time.

"I thought he'd just be in and out," said Ann Hallier, 78,  a retiree who lives in Daniel Island and said she planned to vote for Huntsman.

"He has experience as the governor of Utah and in foreign affairs," she said. "And what we need now is experience, experience, experience."

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