DERRY — Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman charmed a crowd of nearly 100 packed into the Gilbert H. Hood Middle School library last night.
The Republican presidential hopeful cracked jokes and delivered one-liners that brought the crowd to laughter.
"I like our chances here," Huntsman said, noting many Granite Staters' affinity for motorcycles and the right to bear arms. "You love your guns here," he added. "I say with a name like Huntsman, you can't go wrong."
But all joking aside, Huntsman said he had a serious message to deliver to New Hampshire residents who will vote in the state's first-in-the-nation primary Jan. 10.
"We have a divide in this country," he said.
Huntsman, wearing the traditional checkered shirt often seen on the New Hampshire campaign trail, then outlined his plan for what he said would put the nation back on track.
That includes tax reform, promotion of free trade, regulatory revisions and energy independence. That also means slashing the 9 percent national unemployment rate and restoring Americans' trust in their government.
"We have a jobs problem," he said. "We don't have enough jobs for people."
Tax reform would help solve that problem as would bolstering free trade, Huntsman said. Foreign policy must also be driven by economics, he said.
"Taxes are such that we are not attracting capital," Huntsman said. He supports simplification of the tax code, and lower rates for businesses and taxpayers.
Huntsman also backs elimination of the alternative minimum tax and taxes on capital gains and dividends.
But perhaps the nation's biggest problem isn't a burdensome tax code or even a spiraling national deficit, he said.
"We have another deficit we have to worry about in this country," he said. "We have a deficit of trust."
Americans' trust in their country, especially government, has eroded in recent years, Huntsman said. They are losing confidence in their leaders, he added.
"We, as a people, are in a funk," Huntsman said. "That's not who we are. We have to get out of that hole. We need leadership."
Huntsman closed his approximately 20-minute speech with a plea for votes and answered questions from several members of the audience.
"All I want is your vote," he said. "I'm not running from my record. I'm running on my record. I want you to take a look at it."
Some people in the crowd said although they intend to take a closer look at his record and may vote for him in January, they liked what they heard last night.
"I'm still undecided," said Michael Drew, 60, of Derry. "But I have a more favorable opinion after hearing him tonight."
Drew said he especially liked Huntsman's energy policy, which calls for less reliance on foreign oil.
Elaine Rendo, a senior citizen from East Derry, also said she's not sure who she will support in the primary. But Huntsman definitely impressed her, she said.
"There are many things I agreed with," Rendo said. "I like the fact he does have some really good ideas about what to do about employment."
Then there were people such as 81-year-old John Conroy of Derry. No difficult choices will be necessary.
"He already has my vote," Conroy said. "I think he's the best of the candidates. I hope he wins in New Hampshire."
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.