DURHAM, N.H.—The Jon Huntsman moment may well be upon us, but I wouldn't blame anyone for not knowing it. Four days out from the New Hampshire Primary, the prominent challenger to Mitt Romney in New Hampshire at the moment is Ron Paul, who increasingly finds himself in the crossfires of his opponents. As the perennial front-runner continues to fail at the task of exciting a level of sustained enthusiasm around his nomination, there's room in the race for one final turn of events.
Rick Santorum could be the candidate who best stands to benefit after his performance in Iowa. It seems unlikely much can transpire between now and Tuesday's vote for his increased star to dim in the minds of voters, much as Huckabee carried upward momentum at voting time here in 2008. But despite strong crowds turning out to hear him speak, and generally-favorable press coverage, I sense New Hampshire voters would still prefer someone else.
The video itself is poorly-produced and quite clearly not the work of Paul's campaign. Of course, there are always supporters of campaigns who generate inappropriate content like this with pure intentions, but the whole thing strikes me as suspicious. Despite harboring non-interventionist views, I've never found Ron Paul supporters to be as ignorant and inconsiderate as this video leads on. Furthermore, given the structure of the Paul network of supporters, it's foolish to task them with monitoring and censoring all the grassroots creations in support of a candidate who is himself in his late 70's and doesn't utilize the internet. Making Paul the target of blame for the video is irresponsible, and his condemnation of the piece should be enough to silence any of critics.
Regardless, even with the video fading from public attention over the course of this weekend, independent voters may yet be beginning to comprehend the complete contours of Paul's world view as it increasingly comes under fire. Those very voters who at first may have thought a policy of non-intervention had terrific practical benefits for the United States, may come to find these views as backwards-looking in a coming century of increasingly inter-dependent economic markets and government policies. In many ways, this represents my own attitudes of the Paul platform, all while I maintain a solidly positive view of Dr. Paul's character.
Should independent voters become increasingly skeptical of Paul, and his polling negatives nudge up in the coming days, the crossover support for his campaign could begin to decline at a critical moment. I didn't realize until tonight the extent to which the history of the Ron Paul Newsletters have the potential to offend many voters, and combined with the two debates in New Hampshire this weekend, there presents itself a timely opportunity for the typically-restrained Huntsman to pick apart the risks of Paul's isolationist foreign and economic policies, as well as his less calculating approach to diplomatic relations.
With Gingrich's lustre lost and an unpredictably large number of last-minute Romney defectors potentially at play, a second-place finish for Huntsman may not be out of reach.
A good measure of Huntsman's 11th hour support will be his prime-time rally on January 9th, which I will be covering from Exeter. Until then, outlying polls, various endorsements (including that of the Boston Globe yesterday), and certain organizational cues from the Huntsman campaign will continue to feed the press reasons that this man may be the one to watch, or alternatively, a man aware that things are coming to an end.
The recent announcement that the Huntsman campaign will host its post-Primary reception at The Black Brimmer, a relatively small venue in Manchester, raises questions about internal expectations of his performance, but could also be seen as an opportunity to pack the house with enthusiastic supporters, and in the worst case, cause a swarm of media and voter attention that would give the impression of buzz surrounding Huntsman as he presumably heads off to restart his campaign in South Carolina.
Jon Huntsman might be able to coast on through New Hampshire by borrowing some Democrats, a handful of independents, and former supporters of his lesser rivals, but he needs to drive a powerful wedge between himself and Mitt Romney in order to chip off a meaningful amount of his support and make a powerful statement. As Huntsman has been saying for months, his candidacy hingest on a "market moving" event to net him a strong finish, but now is the time he should easily be able to cash in on his hard work, and unfortunately the house isn't paying out to Huntsman just yet.
Admirably, compared to Romney and his slew of supporters in high places who in sum serve to say very little about him, Huntsman has made the best of his few meaningful endorsements, such as that of Tom Ridge and the kind words about his economic policies from the Wall Street Journal, but he could use a late-breaking show of support from a high-profile and respected figure outside of the campaign establishment to cement his viability as the Romney alternative going forward. Who springs to mind? Condoleezza Rice, perhaps?
As illustrated by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and NBC Embed Reporter Jo Ling Kentnon today's Maddow show, the media seems to be the primary force looking to help Huntsman along, not an army of supporters like McCain enjoyed. If Huntsman can't help to account for the very enthusiasm gap that characterizes the Romney campaign at present, why suppose voters would leave behind the more seasoned candidate with more money, organization, and institutional endorsements?
If like me the continuing rampant speculation about Huntsman's true enthusiasm levels in New Hampshire overwhelms you, take a day or two off from the constant coverage. Spend the weekend watching the debate Saturday night, and the following Meet the Press candidate coversation on Sunday morning, and consider the only question that I see potentially making a difference in the New Hampshire race from here on out: does Mitt Romney do or say something that proves him to be an ineffective nominee?
Let's take up this matter again on Monday night and consider what, if anything, has changed —