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Huntsman says he's only viable alternative to Romney



FRANKLIN, N.H. -- While the rest of the pack campaigns in Iowa, here in New Hampshire Jon Huntsman is playing the electability card aggressively, calling himself the only viable alternative to Mitt Romney. Today, the former Utah governor who is skipping Iowa said that while Iowa is key in "winnowing down" the Republican field, he believes the New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary will determine the candidates' electability in a race against an "establishment" candidate.

"Electability is not going to come out of Iowa, it is going to come out of New Hampshire," Huntsman told voters in Franklin, referring to his 6 rivals campaigning in Iowa this weekend. "Electability is what people are going to be looking for in South Carolina and in Florida."

"I think there's a natural winnowing out process that takes place in Iowa," he added earlier in Derry. "There will be an outcome and that outcome will be quickly forgotten and then you have New Hampshire."

Huntsman argues that New Hampshire "will set the standard going forward." As he tries to downplay his absence from the Iowa caucuses, he added that he believes the Jan. 3 results will be forgotten "within a day or two."

It is an ideal but unlikely scenario for Huntsman, regardless of which GOP candidate walks away with the Iowa win on Tuesday. Despite the fact he has invested everything in New Hampshire, he has trailed front-runner Mitt Romney by double digits in state-wide polls since he got into the race last spring.

However, the wide gap has not stopped Huntsman from painting the New Hampshire contest as a two-man race. The former ambassador to China has targeted the lion's share of his attacks on Romney, calling him a "serial flip flopper" and predicting he would be an "status quo" president."

"You want Romney? Everybody wants an alternative," Huntsman said. "Let's face it, they want competition in the marketplace. And they are still looking for that key alternative."

Huntsman took every opportunity to draw clear distinctions between himself and the former Massachusetts governor.

"We are two different people. How can you bring change to Congress and capitol hill when you have half of congress supporting you?" Huntsman said in Franklin today, referring to a long list of prominent endorsements Romney has received. "No way, no how."

Huntsman has received almost no national-level endorsements except for former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge.

Yet at the same time, the candidate's campaign staff also seem threatened by Ron Paul. Starting last week, the campaign have put out a series of direct attacks on Paul, who also tops Huntsman in the polls in New Hampshire. Huntsman has called the libertarian-minded Paul "unelectable" and his foreign policy untenable to audiences across New Hampshire. And last night shortly after midnight, the campaign unveiled a new Twilight Zone-themed web video that features controversial statements by the Texas representative.

When asked about the new spot today in Derry, Huntsman tried to play down Paul's role as his competition.

"You have to compare and contrast with the leading candidates in the race here in New Hampshire," he told reporters. "It's only natural and that's what people expect. That's how people can better understand you and your message."

He quickly pivoted back to the electability factor.

"But I don't believe Ron Paul can go on and win the general election," Huntsman said. "I don't believe he can put together enough mainstream support to be successful in the general election and that's increasingly the question people I think need to ask."