DERRY, N.H. – Iowa may help winnow the field, but it will be New Hampshire that sends a clear message about which Republican presidential hopeful is the most electable, Jon Huntsman said Sunday.
The former Utah governor is skipping Tuesday's Iowa caucuses and has been focused only on New Hampshire, which holds the first primary Jan. 10. He is spending 14 days straight campaigning there, including holding three town hall meetings Sunday.
After drawing about 150 people to his first stop, Huntsman told reporters that Iowa plays an important role in narrowing the field, and that Rick Santorum's recent rise there shows that traditional grassroots campaigning is still important.
But it will be New Hampshire that "will set the standard going forward," he said.
"That's going to impact people's thinking longer term about who is electable," said Huntsman, who argues that the results of the Iowa caucuses will be forgotten within days.
That could be wishful thinking on Huntsman's part, especially if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins in Iowa and then heads to New Hampshire, where he has long been the front-runner.
Huntsman recently has begun making modest progress in New Hampshire after months spent near the bottom of polls, but he still lags far behind Romney.
In person, Huntsman has been calling the primary a two-man race between him and Romney, telling voters they have a choice between a "status quo" candidate and one who will restore the economy and the nation's trust in government. But his campaign clearly feels threatened also by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has been ahead of Huntsman in polls.
The Huntsman campaign posted its second online ad attacking Paul on Sunday, using music and graphics similar to the "Twilight Zone" and footage of what it calls Paul's history of making incendiary statements and promoting outlandish conspiracy theories.
Asked about the ad, Huntsman said it's only natural to compare and contrast himself with the other leading candidates.
"I think that's what people expect, that's how people can better understand you and your message," he said.
He acknowledged Paul's sizable base of support but said the Texas congressman would not be able to bring together enough voters to win a general election.
"I don't believe that he can put together enough mainstream support to be successful, and that is increasingly the question that is being asked," he said.