Huntsman joins hunt for business support in N.H.
CONCORD, N.H. - If Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman had a constituency, the men and women sitting around the table at Orr and Reno law offices this week would be it.
They were generally moderate Republicans, businessmen and lawyers, invited by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m looking for someone who will help my business,’’ said participant Tom MacMullin, president of Kentek, which produces laser parts. MacMullin said government regulations have become overly burdensome. But he is not yet certain if Huntsman is the candidate who can help him, or if it is former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts or Governor Rick Perry of Texas.
“They’re all excellent people with very probusinesses ideas,’’ MacMullin said. “The next trick is to find a person who can carry through.’’
Huntsman, a former Utah governor, businessman, and ambassador to China, has made clear during his current trip to New Hampshire that business owners and workers will be his core constituency and that helping businesses grow will be at the forefront of his agenda.
He released his jobs plan Wednesday at a metal fabricating plant, spoke to a business roundtable Thursday, and toured a manufacturing plant that makes defense and medical products yesterday.
“The task at hand is about getting the economy going again, about creating jobs,’’ Huntsman told employees at Granite State Manufacturing in Manchester.
But if Huntsman wants to portray himself as the “jobs candidate,’’ he faces two obstacles. Their names are Romney and Perry, two other Republican candidates with gubernatorial experience who are claiming the same title.
While many of the businesspeople Huntsman met in New Hampshire said they liked the candidate, most were equally open to his opponents.
Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, which has hosted both Huntsman and Romney, said he sees similarities between the two - both want to roll back regulations, simplify the tax code, and expand the economy.
Fred Keach, owner of D. McLeod Florist and a Concord city councilor, is choosing between Huntsman and Romney. “Their fiscally conservative positions appeal to me,’’ Keach said. “I’m less excited about the red-hot rhetoric of [Minnesota Representative Michele] Bachmann and Perry.’’
Keach likes Huntsman’s international experience and Romney’s business experience. He thinks Huntsman is “more credible’’ and “less rehearsed’’ than Romney. He likes Romney’s understanding of how uncertainty affects businesses. Ultimately, Keach said, choosing between the candidates may come down to electability.
That is an area where Romney, who leads in all the New Hampshire polls, has a major edge over Huntsman, who has been in the low single digits. “Unfortunately, in the end, if one guy is farther ahead than the other guy, I will jump on board with the guy who will win,’’ Keach said.
Perhaps the biggest unknown is Perry, who recently jumped into the race and is trying to use his record as Texas governor to claim the mantle of “job creator’’ that until now had largely belonged to Romney, who was a businessman before he was governor.
Asked what will differentiate him from Romney or Perry, Huntsman said he has a record as governor of Utah, where he implemented tax and health care changes. He said he understands the power of free trade, having been part of trade negotiations as a deputy US trade representative under President George W. Bush.
“People are going to be looking for someone who understands the fragility and sensitivity of the free market system, someone who understands the economic opportunities that will be part of getting the country on its feet,’’ Huntsman said.
Whether voters will buy it remains to be seen. Paul Donovan, director of sales at Granite State Manufacturing, said he likes Huntsman but remains undecided. “A number of candidates seem to understand business,’’ he said. “It’s early.’’