How Jon Huntsman’s moderate views could help him in 2012

Amanda Carey Contributor

Jon Huntsman campaigned little in Iowa before the Ames straw poll. Nevertheless, receiving only 69 votes when Michele Bachmann won with 4,823 had to be a blow. Huntsman, who has been a serious candidate for just over two months, fared only better than Michigan Rep. Thad McCotter.

Despite the poll results and a weak debate performance just a few days earlier, don’t expect Huntsman to bow out of the race anytime soon. Huntsman’s campaign strategy hinges entirely upon wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

Until then, Huntsman will have to live with his low Iowa poll numbers.

Since declaring his candidacy on June 21, Huntsman has spent a total of 25 days in New Hampshire and held over 60 events there. His senior New Hampshire strategist, Paul Collins, told The Daily Caller he’s “confident that our pathway to victory in [the state] will propel Jon Huntsman to be the Republican nominee for president.”

Still, New Hampshire poll results haven’t been very encouraging for the campaign. A July 5th University of New Hampshire poll, for example, had Huntsman at a meager two percent.

The lastest Suffolk University/7News poll showed Huntsman polling at four percent among New Hampshire voters. The upside is that the poll was released just one week after Huntsman officially announced his campaign, when 42 percent said they were undecided on him as a candidate. (RELATED: Huntsman campaign picks up former T-Paw staffer)

“I think the way people are viewing him right now is still as a curiosity,” said Pat Hynes, president of New Hampshire-based Hynes Communication. “He’s still in the introductory phase, and that is not unusual in New Hampshire.”

“We expect a lot from the candidates who come here,” Hynes told TheDC. “A lot of visits, a lot of one-on-ones, a lot of townhalls — all that is part of the process. If he’s committed to doing that, he will do very well because we reward that kind of approach.”

Regardless of outside criticism, Team Huntsman is counting on the former Utah governor’s perceived moderateness (on things like climate change and civil unions) to work in its favor since independent voters heavily outweigh registered Republicans or Democrats.

The state also has an open primary, which means Democrats can vote in the Republican primary. “[W]e have placed ourselves perfectly to appeal to not just Republicans, but to a majority of Granite Staters,” Collins told TheDC.

“New Hampshire residents want to pick someone who can defeat President Obama in the general election,” he added, “and we constantly hear from many people in the state that they feel Governor Huntsman is the only candidate who even has a chance.”

In other words, agreed Hynes, “middle-of-the-road Republicans have an audience they can speak to.” (RELATED: Huntsman, others suddenly want to be Pawlenty’s friend)

“Now the problem for him generally speaking, is they don’t tend to pay as close attention to the process until much later in the primary cycle,” Hynes added. “So if he’s going to have momentum in New Hampshire, it’s going to be in late November, December, or January. Then people will start tuning in.”

“Everything he does now has to be to build up his story to tell those folks then.”

Huntsman already faces stiff opposition in the Granite State, though. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has had a consistent and sizable lead in the polls. Romney announced his candidacy at a farm in New Hampshire on June 2. Still, some doubt Romney’s ability to genuinely connect with the individual New Hampshire voter.

Regardless, even if Huntsman can hang on to the New Hampshire primary, he’ll need a strong finish there to propel him into South Carolina, where he already has a number of staffers on the ground. Several South Carolina political strategists have told TheDC Palmetto State voters won’t accept Huntsman unless he proves himself in New Hampshire.

One even told TheDC Huntsman is “dog food here until he can pull off a win in New Hampshire.”