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Confident Huntsman campaigns 'til the ball drops


Cheryl Senter / AP

Republican presidential candidate and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman greets voters before speaking at a town hall meeting Saturday in Thornton, N.H.



HANCOCK, HUDSON & CONCORD, NH -- As an increasingly confident Jon Huntsman campaigned across New Hampshire 'til the final hours of New Year's Eve hitting house party after house party, he predicted that the New Hampshire primary will come down to a two candidates: himself and Mitt Romney.

"You know what, in the end, it is going to be a two man race. You just wait until next week rolls around," Huntsman said at a packed house party in Hancock. "I know I'm the underdog but New Hampshire loves an underdog!"

As he gave speeches from sun-up to sundown, the former Utah governor seemed to find a new, more concise rhythm. With it, he vigorously trumpeted his foreign policy experience as ambassador to China, telling voters, "We need someone who understand the complicated world. Because it is not going to get less complicated anytime soon."

He also swiped Romney directly. When asked by a voter in Concord why he would be a better choice over front-runner Romney, Huntsman replied, "How about a consistent core?"

Huntsman later called Romney a "good man" but quickly added, "I haven't been on three sides of every issue."

Huntsman -- who opted this summer to skip the Iowa caucuses entirely -- has made a grassroots gamble on the Granite State, where he hopes to attract a large number of independent and undeclared voters. His seven-event march across New Hampshire was a classic example of retail campaigning on a shoestring budget. The strategy has begun to yield larger audiencesafter a summer of thinly attended events. However, due to anemic fundraising, Huntsman has been forced to rely on outsiders to put television advertisements on the air on his behalf.

Friday, his town-by-town effort was bolstered by a $300,000 ad buy from the pro-Huntsman Our Destiny PAC, an unaffiliated super PAC that has received contributions from his billionaire father who is a chemicals magnate in Utah. This was the third major buy by Our Destiny. Yet, in the most recent New Hampshire poll by NBC News/Marist, Huntsman remains in fourth place behind Romney, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich.

When asked about his lagging poll numbers versus his high intensity efforts, Huntsman balked.

"I don't want to do what Bachmann, Perry, Cain and everybody else did.

They've all gone from 25 percent down to two. I don't want that. No way, no how. I want a steady substantive rise based on real ideas," he said in Hancock.

Sunday, Huntsman kicks off the new year as the only major candidate in New Hampshire with three campaign stops.