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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Huntsman discusses education and economy at Rivier College

NASHUA – It was only a small sampling of voters, but Jon Huntsman will undoubtedly accept any and all support in his run for president.

After the former Utah governor spoke at a Rivier College event Tuesday, several audience members credited Huntsman with not seeming like a politician.

Granted, the views of a few people at an event that drew about 60 doesn’t qualify as a solid scientific survey. But Huntsman, as most politicians do, promised to shake the hand of every New Hampshire voter 15 times each in an attempt to win their votes.

Piquing the interest of several voters certainly qualifies as progress, especially with the Republican unable to gain statistical traction in the crowded GOP primary field.

“I like him. He’s a lot more personable than other politicians. You don’t get that politician vibe from him,” said Kelly Renaud, a Rivier College senior.

Huntsman, a former ambassador to China, has a familiarity with Asia and economics that are key to a presidential candidacy, said Renaud, an independent voter.

Young students such as Renaud, who is 21, were in the minority in this crowd; most audience members were older.

The talk was part of the college’s President’s Circle forum – a series of events that tries to bring together area business and community leaders to discuss issues affecting New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Huntsman made tongue-in-cheek remarks about the Granite State to stress its importance as the first in the nation to hold a presidential primary. He also recalled his recent appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” in which he playfully bent over backwards to praise New Hampshire.

For Huntsman, this state and the 49 others should take priority over nation building in countries such as Afghanistan. The U.S. needs to reduce its economic and trust deficits before it can be the global leader it once was, he said.

Speaking to the college students in attendance, Huntsman said their generation is about to be saddled with a national debt that will prevent growth and opportunities. The economic stagnation seen in Japan, Greece and Italy is now a U.S. issue, he said.

And U.S. citizens no longer trust elected officials, Huntsman said. He proposed term limits on members of Congress, but didn’t specify how long. Nonetheless, the proposal generated the loudest round of applause for Huntsman.

“We are the most optimistic, can-do people,” Huntsman said of Americans. “But we’re in a hole.”

Among Huntsman’s ideas for digging out of the hole: reducing the national debt and readjusting educational standards – including an emphasis on individualized learning, because within “each child, there’s a genius.”

Huntsman also frowned on Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, and said siding with Israel was crucial.

Dave Nugent, of Nashua, appreciated how Huntsman stayed focused on issues and didn’t devolve into criticizing other candidates. But Huntsman wasn’t specific on many issues, Nugent said.

For instance, Nugent, an independent voter who leans Democrat, doesn’t buy the argument that federal regulations deter companies. Huntsman spoke of shedding regulations but didn’t specify which ones, Nugent said. “It’s just a bunch of phony talk to an audience,” he said of general campaign promises.

Sonia Ascher, an independent voter from Hollis, said she will consider backing Huntsman in the primary. He has leadership qualities and foreign policy experience that are compelling, she said.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-6528 or Also check out McKeon (@Telegraph_AMcK) on Twitter.