NORTH CHARLESTON, SC -- On Wednesday, Jon Huntsman said his bronze-medal finish in the New Hampshire primary gave him a "ticket to ride" to South Carolina, but the former Utah governor is doing his best to keep his Palmetto State expectations low.
Or in his words, "Very low."
"But I think we'll exceed that," Huntsman quickly added.
Huntsman is realistic about his chances in a state to which he has only visited a handful of times with just nine days to go voting day. The former ambassador to China -- who did more than 170 public campaign stops in New Hampshire over a six-month period -- has lots of ground to make up in the Palmetto State.
He clocked in at 1% of support in the a recent CNN poll of likely South Carolina Republican voters.
"We don't have as much time as we did in New Hampshire," Huntsman conceded in Columbia, after speaking to more than 100 students at faculty at the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business. "But we have enough energy and we have enough of a message and enough of a good team on the ground and that's what I think matters in the end."
Huntsman's team in South Carolina is actually much larger than many realize -- with four field staffers and support from prominent leaders, including South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. Another major supporter, former South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, called Huntsman a "red hot" candidate who he believes can overcome a
massive name ID challenge in a state that is more conservative and evangelical compared to New Hampshire. .
While Huntsman tries to mute expectations, he also remains his usual upbeat self.
“Ladies and gentleman, I am an optimist or I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you,” he said at a town hall meeting in North Charleston on Wednesday night.
However, caution prevails. When asked if he will definitely campaign in Florida -- a state where his campaign headquarters once was located -- a worn-looking Huntsman smiled, "Well, one state at a time. One state at a time."