CONCORD, N.H. — During a contentious and overflowing meeting of the New Hampshire state legislature Wednesday morning, Republican presidential candidate and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman delivered a stump speech that was met with barely a peep from a State House filled with conservative activists and union partisans.
Though Huntsman’s jokes brought chuckles, his speech stood in stark contrast with that of fellow candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who roused the lawmakers and the gallery just moments before. The Lone Star governor elicited both thunderous applause and, from the union activists in the gallery, loud boos and hissing. Huntsman’s speech received polite, emotion-free applause.
“You will notice, ladies and gentlemen, that I’m speaking more and more with a New Hampshire accent,” Huntsman began, promoting his New Hampshire-only primary campaign strategy.
“I’ve been to every county in this state,” he continued. “We’ve had 112 public events.”
The legislature itseld was a full house, with the large Republican majority trying for a final time in 2011 to overturn Democratic Gov. John Lynch’s veto of a right-to-work bill, which would bar unions from collecting dues from employees as a condition of employment.
So many activists from both sides attended the session that a separate room with a closed-circuit TV was set up to handle overflow.
The cheers and jeers that greeted Perry’s speech, and the energy that had permeated the building, seemed lost on Hunstman. He told the crowd of activists and citizen lawmakers, “I believe in the New Hampshire primary, I believe in a state where it means something to be a motorcycle rider.”
“I am asking for a very simple thing,” Huntsman said. “I want your vote, and if I don’t get your vote, I want a fee for services rendered because no other candidate has marketed New Hampshire the way I have.”
Continuing to heap praise on the Granite State for its first-in-the nation primary status, Huntsman touted his boycott of the Nevada presidential debate, calling it a “game show” and saying “I stayed right here.”
He also spoke of visiting a Concord, N.H. high school Wednesday morning and telling students to pursue their “hopes, aspirations and dreams,” before lamenting the “unnatural and unhealthy … divide in the country.”
The former governor also spoke fondly of the “blue skies” and “energy” of Communist China — the dictatorship he served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador for two years.
When “you walk the streets” of Chinese cities, Huntsman said, “there is energy, there is blue sky! Eight, nine, 10-percent economic performance for 30 years running.”
Though Huntsman did not address the contentious union issue, in an August 12 op-ed in the Union Leader, New Hampshire’s most prominent newspaper, he wrote, “I witnessed firsthand the fruits of that advantage in Utah, which is one of 22 states with a right-to-work law. Our state was first in the nation for job growth, largely because of policies — like right to work — that create an environment for small businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive.”
Following Huntsman’s departure, the veto was sustained by 12 votes, with the Democratic minority maintaining strict discipline and some Republicans crossing party lines to vote with the Democrats. The vote was 240–139 but fell short of the two-thirds super majority required to overturn a governor’s veto.