Jon Huntsman’s closing argument in New Hampshire has been a one-word mantra: independent. He has stressed both his independence from Republican orthodoxy and his oft-repeated appeal to independents. He will no doubt be touting Gallup’s announcement this morning that a record number of voters now identify as independents.
And though his main rival in New Hampshire is the frontrunner Mitt Romney, his attempts to contrast himself with the former Massachusetts governor ironically leave him making the same argument Romney has all along: he can beat Barack Obama. The good news: in CNN’s last poll before the Iowa caucuses, Romney cleaned up on the electability question, then won the caucuses. The bad news: to Iowans, Huntsman barely registered on the electability question.
This means that although Huntsman’s argument–that voters should support him in the primaries because he can win the general election–is worth something to GOP voters, he has either not reached or not convinced nearly enough voters to catch Romney.
So while a second-place finish in tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary is possible, where would Huntsman go next? It’s difficult to imagine him seriously competing in South Carolina, but Florida would seem to be a more hospitable state for his brand. Yet Quinnipiac tells us this morning Huntsman is at two percent in the state. The better question, then, may not be where Huntsman goes, but when. Here’s the key paragraph from the Times story:
Others at the Hampstead event said they did not think Mr. Huntsman had a shot at winning this year’s primary or even placing second or third. But several said they hoped he would draw enough support to be a strong candidate in 2016.
It was widely noted at the time that Obama’s decision to ask Huntsman to serve as his ambassador to China was in large part to take a perceived strong candidate out of the 2012 race. With the New Hampshire primary a day away, even Huntsman’s supporters seem to think he’s succeeded in doing just that.