Huntsmania: The Captain Beefheart Bounce

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 22 2011 11:59 AM

Huntsmania: The Captain Beefheart Bounce

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Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - SEPTEMBER 09: Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is seen on an iPhone as he speaks to the media during a luncheon with the Republican Jewish Coalition at the Marriott Hotel on September 9, 2011 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Huntsman was on a campaign swing before the next Republican debate scheduled for September 12th in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

What Jon Huntsman needed was his all-in New Hampshire strategy to pay off. Repositioning resources from Florida, skipping Iowa, brushing off Nikki Haley's spirited non-endorsement in South Carolina: It could work if Huntsman started to show some life in the state John McCain won twice.

Thank you, Suffolk poll! The university's survey with 7NEWS shows Huntsman driving up to double digits, barely, and coming in third, barely. The trendlines, from June:

Mitt Romney - 41% (+5)
Ron Paul - 14% (+6)
Jon Huntsman - 10% (+6)
Rick Perry - 8% (+8)
Sarah Palin - 6% (+2)
Michele Bachmann - 5% (-3)
Newt Gingrich - 4% (+2)
Rick Santorum - 1% (+0)
Buddy Roemer - 1% (+1)
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What happened to Huntsman? Better question: What happened to the rest of the field? The previous Suffolk poll pegged Tim Pawlenty at 2 percent and Rudy Giuliani at 5. Pawlenty ran and faded; Giuliani never ran, and probably will remain out. There is a moderate "meh, maybe not Romney this time" vote, and Huntsman is cleaning up with it. According to the crosstabs, 74 percent of his voters say evolution is a "fact," the highest belief level for any candidate. (Only 48 percent of Santorum backers agree that evolution is probably true.) Sixty-one percent of Huntsman voters say Rick Perry is "over the top." Sixty-three percent say "raising taxes should be an option for reducing the national debt."

This part of Huntsman's strategy is working. The danger for him is that the more conservative non-Romneys stay out of the state and the margin between him and Huntsman is too large to make it look like a surprise showing for the former ambassador. One thing I've found on trips to New Hampshire is that some conservative voters, concerned with electability, are finding reasons to back Romney -- he was, remember, the "conservative" option against McCain in this primary four years ago.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.