Manchester, N.H. • Presidential candidate Mitt Romney slammed rival Jon Huntsman on Saturday for serving as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China, an uncharacteristic move for the former Massachusetts governor who has typically steered his zingers at Obama.
Romney, who has a solid lead in the New Hampshire polls, attacked Huntsman during the second-to-last debate before Tuesday’s primary after the ex-Utah governor touted his experience serving abroad and explained why starting a trade war with the country was dangerous.
“I’m sorry, governor, you were, the last two years, implementing the policies of this administration in China,” Romney said at the ABC News-Yahoo debate at Saint Anselm College. “The rest of us on this stage were doing our best to get Republicans elected across the country and stop the policies of this president from being put forward.”
Huntsman responded in Mandarin Chinese: “He doesn’t really understand the situation” and then continued on in English, “What he is calling for would lead to a trade war. It makes for easy talk and a nice applause line, but it’s far different from the reality in the U.S.-China relationship.”
Ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who are all jockeying for a second-place finish, jumped into a testy fight during parts of the debate, while Huntsman refused to take on any candidate by name when asked to explain a “trust deficit” among national leaders.
Romney, for the most part, also stayed clear of mentioning his GOP opponents, though they didn’t ignore him.
“The commander-in-chief of this country isn’t a CEO,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum charged after Romney touted his business experience.
“It’s someone who has to — has to lead, and it’s also — being the president is not a CEO. You can’t direct, you know, members of Congress and — and members of the Senate as to how you do things. You’ve got to lead and inspire.”
Romney shot back that his opponents don’t have the experience in the private sector to even understand how it works.
“I wish people in Washington had the experience of going out and working in the real economy first, before they went there, and they’d understand some of the real lessons of leadership,” Romney said.
With the exception of the Romney-Huntsman tussle, the former Utah governor got, as his chief strategist John Weaver joked, a “love in.”
“I congratulate Governor Huntsman on the success in his governorship to make the state more attractive for business,” Romney said after Huntsman rattled off a list of his accomplishments as Utah’s chief executive.
“I happen to think that I’m the only outsider, with the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, who has not been part of the problem in Washington, D.C., the insiders in Washington, D.C.,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry chimed in later during a discussion of fixing Washington spending.
Huntsman didn’t yield the same to Romney, criticizing him for a low job creation record as governor.
“It’s part of his record, and therefore, it’s going to be talked about,” Huntsman said.
After the debate, Weaver said he took “keen” interest in the fact that Romney went after his candidate and argued it was clear the Romney campaign feared a Huntsman surge.
“Here’s a guy who usually tries to float above, and they’re worried about their turnout here quite frankly. They’ve taken this state for granted,” Weaver said. “I think they’re worried about our ground game.”
Romney adviser Kevin Madden dismissed Weaver’s comment.
“We take nothing for granted,” Madden said. “We’re absolutely focused on talking directly to [New Hampshire] voters to make sure they show up to support the governor on primary day.”
Former New Hampshire Republican Chairman Fergus Cullen said he wasn’t sure any of the candidates on the stage did a good job of contrasting himself against his opponents but that Romney continued his streak of staying on message.
“Romney skates once again,” Cullen said.
As for Huntsman, the Republican consultant said the candidate made a good distinction when he forcefully declared his support for civil unions, which none of his opponents backs.
“He was a little more aggressive [this time], but he still missed opportunities,” Cullen said.
New Hampshire expects 250K GOP primary votes
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner says he expects 250,000 ballots to be cast in the highly contested Republican presidential primary on Tuesday and 75,000 on the Democratic side.
As of last month, New Hampshire had about 232,000 registered Republicans, 223,000 Democrats and 313,000 undeclared voters, who can vote in either primary. The state also allows same-day voter registration at the polls.
Tuesday’s contest is the nation’s first primary of the presidential nominating season.
Source: The Associated Press