EXETER NH--Ending his New Hampshire marathon exactly where he first began it, Jon Huntsman delivered his closing argument to his biggest ever crowd in the Granite State, hoping that his weekend surge will be enough to propel him to South Carolina.
“Something is happening out there,” Huntsman said, basking in deafening cheers at the quintessentially charming Exeter Town Hall. “I have no idea what it is going to mean tomorrow night, but I do know this: we’re going to surprise a whole lot of people in this country.”
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Jon Huntsman speaks to voters during a 'Restoring Trust Rally' in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Huntsman launched his Granite State strategy on June 21 in the same town hall. Later, New Hampshire would become the singular focus of shoe-string strategy that was once a three-state approach. His sudden surge over the past several days has been a welcome change for a candidate who usually spoke to crowds of a few dozen until very recently.
Huntsman also hammered home a new mantra: “Country First.” The phrase
-- which was first used in John McCain's 2008 campaign -- is a ninth hour addition to his stump speech, after front-runner Mitt Romney questioned Huntsman's decision to serve as US ambassador to China under Democratic incumbent Barack Obama in two debates last weekend.
The Huntsman campaign began airing an television advertisement slamming Romney's position and generated new lawn signs emblazoned with the tagline to drive the point home in the final hours before New Hampshire votes.
“Our movement is here to put our country first. We’re tired of people putting politics first,” Huntsman said of Romney as his Exeter crowd roared.
The sizeable rally, which was utterly unfathomable just one week ago, featured an energetic Huntsman who spent the day crisscrossing the state drawing a contrast between himself and Mitt Romney. Clad in a leather bomber jacket, Huntsman brought up Romney's debate comments repeatedly.
"It has become abundantly clear over the last couple of days what differentiates Gov. Romney and me," Huntsman told reporters in Concord today. "I will always put my country first. It seems that Gov. Romney believes in putting politics first. Gov. Romney enjoys firing people.
I enjoy creating jobs."
Huntsman was referring to a comment on health care by Romney earlier in the day, during which Romney answered a question on health care.
"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," Romney said this morning. "If someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I want to say I am going to get somebody else to provide that service to me."
Huntsman spent most of his final full day on the New Hampshire trail kissing babies, dropping by diners and bakeries, and shaking hands with any voter who would give him their attention. Starting from the northern reaches of the state and slowly working his way south, Huntsman told voters he wanted to "twist your arm and earn your vote."
"We're looking for a little help," a hopeful Huntsman told voters in Nashua. "We need help in getting out the vote tomorrow. We've worked very, very hard...no one has worked this state like we have."
By evening, a cloudy moment momentarily dampened the otherwise ebuillient mood.
Huntsman's application to appear in the Arizona primary ballot was rejected because of a missing notarized signature today, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. This comes after the former Utah governor missed ballot requirements in Virginia and Illinois. The Huntsman campaign vowed that it did complete the application and plans to litigate to put his name on the ballot.
But Huntsman himself remained focused on leveraging his weekend surge into a performance worthy of the many days he has spent in the Granite State.
"Are we ready to rock and roll tomorrow?" Huntsman bellowed in Exeter.
"We are ready to rock and roll!"