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Huntsman calls Paul 'unelectable'

Elise Amendola / AP

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman speaks and shakes hands after a town hall in Pelham, N.H., Wednesday.

PELHAM N.H. -- On his first day back on the trail since Christmas, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman stepped far beyond the boundaries of his usually polite stump speech to repeatedly slam Ron Paul as "unelectable" because of "out there" views on foreign policy. Huntsman is the latest candidate to join an intensifying Republican crescendo of criticism of the Texas Congressman as the Iowa caucuses approach.

"He is not electable at the end of the day. Let's be real about it," Huntsman told more than 150 voters at a town hall meeting in southern New Hampshire. "I'm not an isolationist. I don't share the Ron Paul world view. I am a realist."

Paul currently commands a strong second place position in the lead up to the January 3 Iowa contest.

Huntsman dubbed Paul's positions on Iran and American military presence overseas as "out there enough" to be harmful to U.S. national security. With issues like Iran "on the ascent," Huntsman warned Iran would become the "transcendent foreign policy challenge of the decade."

Huntsman didn't stop there. "Things like legalizing drugs -- I just don't think this is a position that is going to sell well," Huntsman told reporters on Wednesday night. "I just don't think he's going to get enough mainstream support to win."

'Make the math work'
When asked by NBC News, Huntsman declined to say whether he would support Paul if he does indeed become GOP nominee, bristling at a hypothetical scenario. Front-runner Mitt Romney has committed to voting for Paul if the latter becomes the Republican party's choice. Gingrich has declared he would not support Paul over disagreement on foreign and domestic policies.

"I'm just making a case for electability," Huntsman said. "You know at the end of the day we've just got to win back some people who actually voted for Barack Obama, just to make the math work. So who at the end of the day is the most electable? I believe I'm the most electable candidate in the race right now."

However, current polls indicate Huntsman has a long uphill battle to win in New Hampshire. He placed a distant fourth place here, the state in which he has centered his campaign efforts. According to a poll by CNN and Time magazine published Wednesday, the former ambassador to China sits at 9 percent of likely Republican support while Romney leads with 44 percent, followed by Paul at 17 percent and Gingrich with 16 percent in the Granite State.

Huntsman -- who until Wednesday night rarely disagreed with his GOP opponents by name -- added that the recently-discovered controversial newsletters published under Paul's name in the 1990s also undercut his legitimacy as a candidate.

"You gotta own up to that history and ultimately he is going to have to explain that to the American people if he wants to get enough support to be a legitimate player," said Huntsman.

Paul recently responded to the newsletters, saying that he was not aware of the content at the time and disavowed the remarks inside his namesake publication.

When asked if Paul's explanation was adequate, Huntsman replied, "Not so far."

Huntsman's long game was also questioned tonight as he kicked off a packed campaign schedule that leads up to January 10 primary. When a voter asked Huntsman about his failure to collect enough signatures to appear on the Virginia primary ballot, he brushed it off.

"I'm not too bothered about that," Huntsman said. "Our philosophy has always been, if we come out of New Hampshire with a head of steam, we're going to well in South Carolina, we're going to do well in Florida, in which case you're going to get the early delegate states who are going to want to be with the most electable candidate."