CONCORD, N.H. - Jon Huntsman, who has made much of the motorcycles he owns, bragged about his shotgun Saturday as he wooed gun owners in a state where the former Utah governor is counting on a breakout performance to vault him into the race for the GOP presidential nomination.
"I've been shooting guns since I was, I guess, six, when I started with a BB gun, and then a .22 when I was 12, which I still have, by the way. And then I have a shotgun, a 12-gauge shotgun," Huntsman told reporters outside Concord's Everett Ice Arena, where more than 50 gun vendors were gathered for a show and sale.
Casually dressed in a red-and-black plaid flannel shirt, Huntsman playfully emphasized the first syllable in his name as he paid a 30-minute visit to the show. "I like some of the old classics, the 30-30 classics," he said. "That's kind of the gun that won the west, so we saw some of the historic 30-30s, the old Winchesters, and that's kind of an American classic, so that's probably my favorite, coming from the West."
Huntsman may have felt a need to underscore his support for gun rights after a stumble earlier this summer when he first told conservative radio interviewer that he would not veto a ban on assault weapons, and later recanted. In a statement to talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Huntsman said he had "misunderstood the question."
Accompanied by his wife, Mary Kaye, Huntsman arrived 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. None of his supporters were visible in the crowd, but there were some for his rivals: Ron Paul (who had the most, including some members of the Free State Project), Mitt Romney, and Thad McCotter. Huntsman shook hands with them nonetheless, ignoring a handler's effort to herd him back into his SUV, so that he could shake hands with a Paul supporter. "Anytime I can get anyone's consideration, even second billing after Ron, I'll take it," Huntsman quipped.
His visit drew mixed responses. Gun vendor Mike Methe of New Hampshire said Huntsman "has a lot of qualities I'm looking for in a candidate," but Methe added that he hasn't made up his mind about whom he'll support.
Ron Paul supporter Mike Sylvia said he thought Huntsman, who has been highlighting his differences with more conservative rivals on some policy issues, was trying to counter that strategy with his gun show visit.
"I suppose it's an image thing, you know? He's trying to put forward a more conservative edge on his image. I wouldn't think of him naturally as being super-conservative," Sylvia said. "I suppose it doesn't hurt to show up, but you know, it's politics."