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Huntsman kicks off week-long charm offensive in NH

MANCHESTER, NH -- With 21 fresh staffers on the ground and a newly minted campaign chief securely in place, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman this week launches an aggressive campaign blitz across New Hampshire, hoping to gain ground on GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney.

The former ambassador to China, whose national poll numbers have been stuck in the single digits since he threw his hat in the ring, kicks off a packed schedule today, with a visit to FIRST, a non-profit science education program for kids. Huntsman will then criss-cross the Granite State with family in tow to meet voters, tour factories, and talk with business leaders almost twice daily for the rest of the week.

"Gov. Huntsman is happy to be back in the Granite State this week to present real solutions to getting American back to work," Michael Levoff, the campaign's New Hampshire spokesman, told NBC News.

Huntsman wraps up the weekend in South Carolina on Sunday, when he'll participate in a town hall hosted by GOP Rep. Tim Scott.

The weeklong caravan through New Hampshire is expected to be a departure from what Huntsman knows best: good old diplomacy. As ambassador and now-candidate, Huntsman until recently has been reluctant to wade into the usual political in-fighting. His campaign now seems to be more focused on pointed campaigning -- with Huntsman criticizing the GOP field and chiding President Obama.

But even his digs at the competition remain diplomatic at their core. "My fellow candidates, and I love them all, aren't offering any realistic solutions or are ducking the debate entirely," Huntsman told a few hundred College Republicans at their national conference on Friday.

His reaction to the debt ceiling agreement? Ever the peace-maker, Huntsman said it was not his "preferred outcome," but a "positive step."

Though struggling with relatively low name recognition in New Hampshire, some are confident that Huntsman could be ready to take off.

Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, observed Huntsman as ambassador to China and himself served in both the Obama and Bush administrations.

"Other candidates come out of the gate throw everything at you all at once. Voters may start to realize certain candidates look good, but overtime they lose their shine," Haenle told NBC News. "I think Huntsman is the opposite. He might not attract attention all at once, but over time he'll build up momentum."