The Republican candidates for president assembled Sunday morning for yet another debate, this time the second slugfest in ten hours. With the primary season set to kick off Tuesday in New Hampshire, the two debates in that state presented a last chance opportunity for the GOP hopefuls to change the direction of the race. In particular, it was do or die for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. who, with his 1% national polling, is seemingly on life support.
Huntsman literally had nothing to lose this weekend. This was his last shot at convincing New Hampshire voters that he, not Mitt Romney, is not only the most deserving candidate, but the one most able to beat President Obama. Did he nail it? Hardly. With the exception of one major point-scoring moment where he attacked Romney for criticizing him for serving as Ambassador to China in the Obama administration, Huntsman was his usual meek, measured self, never showing enough passion, emotion or charisma to be commanding. But that may not matter on Tuesday when voters go to the polls.
The truth is, Huntsman's the only real grown up in the room. He's not just smart and honest, but logical and rational...and possessing a stellar resume. When he spoke Chinese in Saturday night's debate to drive home a point to Romney about U.S. relations with the Asian superpower, I suspect the value of having a president so versed in the Chinese culture and language was not lost on many in the audience.
Look at the GOP pack. Romney's an outright liar, more consumed by political expedience than anything, changing his positions more than I change my drawers. What's most intriguing about his consistent 20-25% polling is the obvious fact that 75-80% of Republicans can't stand him. Rick Santorum is an evangelical hothead, whose idea of "small government" is one which amends the Constitution to ban gay marriage, gay sex, abortion, life support and contraception while denying the Separation of Church and State. Ron Paul is an angry old quasi-anarchist while Newt Gingrich is, well, just plain angry. And Rick Perry is less qualified to be president than I am. On the national stage, this picture ain't pretty.
What Huntsman has going for him is that Tuesday's primary is in the "Live Free or Die" state. The state where maverick voters typically march to the beat of their own drum and don't like being told how to think or who to vote for. Roughly 40% of the state's voters are undeclared, independents. And that could be the difference for Huntsman, who's been quietly inching up in the polls.
While I'm not going to make a prediction at this point, as it sure as hell seems like Romney's gonna coast on Tuesday, I will say I would not be surprised at all if there was a stunning upset and Huntsman either won or finished a very close second. And if that's the case, this election will be thrown wide open, and it could spell the beginning of the end for Romney as the contest heads to the very conservative South.