Huntsman campaign invigorated by small signs of improvement

A modest surge in polling and an upswing in media attention has Jon Huntsman’s campaign arguing it’s the beginning of what will be an upset victory in the New Hampshire primary.

If that’s the case, the time for an upset is now. 

It’s five weeks until the New Hampshire contest, on which Huntsman has staked his political fortunes. In the face of lackluster national poll numbers, the former Utah governor is hoping that a good showing in the Granite State will give him the necessary momentum to catapult himself from the back of the GOP presidential pack into the lead.

Huntsman’s campaign has been focusing all its energy in the state and, recently, the pro-Huntsman Our Destiny super-PAC has invested $1.4 million in campaign ads in the Northeast, and primarily around the state.

The campaign has taken as encouragement a slight uptick in media attention, as well as a recent Rasmussen poll that found Huntsman at 11 percent in New Hampshire, behind Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, respectively. Huntsman’s campaign is hoping that if it can siphon enough votes away from Romney, the main target of its opposition efforts, it can perform well in the state known for its influential base of centrist and independent voters. 

But Huntsman likely has a way to go nationally, or even in New Hampshire. He recently failed to qualify for an upcoming presidential debate in Iowa, and his polling numbers, while ahead of most of the field in New Hampshire, are still a far cry from Romney’s. 

In an interview Tuesday with NBC’s “Today” show, Huntsman admitted that his campaign hadn’t really spent any resources in Iowa. 

“We were not even competing in Iowa, since the beginning,” Huntsman said. 

In the same interview, he maintained that his campaign is headed in the right direction. 

“We have weeks left in this race, and New Hampshire is always the state that upends conventional wisdom,” Huntsman said. “We’ve gone from zero to low double digits.”

Republican media consultant Patrick Griffin, a fellow at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, said it’s conceivable for Huntsman to pull off some kind of upset, but that there are some real barriers standing in the way.

“Let’s face it, this is the only place Jon Huntsman is playing,” Griffin said. “But right now, this looks like a first, second, third — Gingrich, Paul, Romney — today. Could this switch? They could, but I’m not sure [that leaves] a lot of options for Huntsman.”

While the Rasmussen poll showed an increase in support for the former governor, it isn’t the same kind of bump other candidates in the race, such as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, have seen in the polls. 

But Huntsman’s staffers remain optimistic, saying they will place first in New Hampshire.

“In order to get there, we’re going to work harder than any other candidate in New Hampshire,” Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said. 

He added that the recent Rasmussen poll was a sign that things are finally turning the Huntsman campaign’s way. He also said there was no chance that the slight bump could already be over. Huntsman’s campaign is on the upswing in the polls, Miller stressed. 

“It’s not going to happen,” Miller said when asked whether Huntsman’s poll numbers could slide back into the single digits. “Our momentum is going to continue.”

Miller declined to make any serious prediction about where Huntsman’s campaign will end up in the Granite State primary. 

“I think we’ll definitely finish in the top seven,” he joked. “Look, we need to outperform the market; we need to do well in New Hampshire.”

Another Huntsman campaign staffer stuck to the campaign’s general confidence. He said the campaign plans to outwork all its competitors in the state. 

“We’re in the final sprint,” the staffer said. “We’re working this state harder than any other candidate. We’re working it hard, and I think we’re going to do well.”

Realistically, the staffer said, the campaign would like to finish somewhere in the top three, maybe showing well in second place. 

“Competitive second would be good,” the staffer said, adding that “obviously, they’d like to come out on top in the state” but refused to predict that would happen. 

Huntsman acknowledged the need for a strong showing.

“We need a market mover, and that’s what we need in New Hampshire,” he said on “Today.”