Huntsman surge stops at 3rd-place New Hampshire finish

Huntsman: Ready for South Carolina
Huntsman: Ready for South Carolina

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Story highlights

  • Huntsman's No. 3 finish comes after he poured money, time into New Hampshire
  • Efforts brought him from single digits in state's polls to double digits in vote
  • In South Carolina, poll shows he has support of 1% of likely voters

Jon Huntsman got the third ticket out of New Hampshire, but it's unclear how far that ticket will take him.

Huntsman finished third in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, a state in which he had staked his entire campaign, finishing behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

"Where we stand right now is a solid, confident position and we go south from here," Huntsman told CNN's Jim Acosta before speaking to supporters, referring to the next two primaries in South Carolina on January 21 and Florida on January 31.

The former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China ignored the first nominating contest in Iowa, even insulting Iowa Republicans along the way, to pour almost all his time, energy and money into New Hampshire.

He saw his poll numbers rise from single digits a few weeks ago to 17% of Tuesday's vote, with 92% of the vote counted.

Huntsman: We are in a strong position
Huntsman: We are in a strong position

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New Hampshire's race for second, third
New Hampshire's race for second, third

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But Huntsman could hit a wall in South Carolina, where a CNN/Time/ORC International Poll shows him drawing the support of 1% of likely GOP primary voters. In Florida, a Quinnipiac poll of likely Republican primary voters released Monday showed Huntsman far behind the field at 2%.

Asked if he could stop front-runner Romney's momentum, Huntsman challenged Romney's inevitability as the nominee and also his viability against President Barack Obama.

"The people of South Carolina are going to be looking for the same thing as the people of New Hampshire and that is electability, somebody who is going to carry us to victory ultimately. To be able to address the trust deficit and economic deficit and not talk about firing people or pink slips in a way they will get tripped up by the (Democratic National Committee) and Chicago machine that has a billion dollars behind it."

Huntsman was alluding to comments Romney made on Monday about his fear of getting a pink slip and firing people if they didn't deliver adequate service when talking about insurance companies.

But that line of attack wasn't resonating among establishment Republicans, and even opponent Paul, who were coming to Romney's defense.

Huntsman did get a little bit of a surge in the days leading up to Tuesday, but exit poll results provided little in the way of traction. He captured a quarter of independents who voted in the primary, finishing third to Romney and Paul, and with Romney appealing to the mainstream and the conservative vote split between other candidates, that was a key constituency he had to capture.

Huntsman had already sunk $2.3 million of his own fortune into his campaign and launched a fundraising drive over the weekend in which he pledged to match contributions to his campaign dollar-for-dollar.

In addition, his father, Jon Huntsman Sr., launched a super PAC to back his campaign.

Huntsman heads to South Carolina on Wednesday with a town hall meeting and a fundraiser on his schedule.

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