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Huntsman fires back at Romney for knocking his service as ambassador to China

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, center, answers a question as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, left, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, listen during a Republican presidential candidate debate at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, N.H., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman again defended his service as an ambassador to China in the Obama administration in a Sunday morning debate, saying that he put "country first" and that the criticism he has sustained reflected attitudes which divide the country.

"I was criticized last night by Governor Romney for putting my country first," Huntsman said in the NBC/Facebook debate from New Hampshire. "He criticized me while he was out raising money for serving my country in China, yes, under a Democrat, like my two sons are doing in the United States Navy. They're not asking who -- what political affiliation the president is. I want to be very clear with the people here in New Hampshire and this country: I will always put my country first. And I think that's important to them."

Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, served as U.S. ambassador to China from 2009 until April of 2011 -- service in the Obama administration which has drawn criticism from Republicans and hampered his presidential campaign. At last night's ABC debate, Romney hit at Huntsman for his work on behalf of the president.

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"I'm sorry, governor, you were, the last two years, implementing the policies of this administration in China," Romney said. "The rest of us on this stage were doing our best to get Republicans elected across the country and stop the policies of this president from being put forward."


Romney continued to criticize Huntsman when it was brought up again this morning.

"I think we serve our country first by standing for people who believe in conservative principles and doing everything in our power to promote an agenda that does not include President Obama's agenda," Romney said. "I think the decision to go and work for President Obama is one which you took. I don't disrespect your decision to do that. I just think it's most likely that the person who should represent our party running against President Obama is not someone who called him a remarkable leader and went to be his ambassador in China."

Huntsman then said that attitude was was U.S. was divided.

"This nation is divided... because of attitudes like that," Huntsman said. "The American people are tired of the partisan division. They have had enough. There is no trust left among the American people and the institutions of power and among the American people and our elected officials. And I say, we've had enough, and we have to change our direction in terms of coming together as Americans first and foremost and finding solutions to our problems."

Huntsman's remarks crystalize the message he has taken on the road in New Hampshire, where he's staked his entire campaign. In the days leading up to the January 10 New Hampshire primary, Huntsman has embarked in a "Restoring Trust" tour across the state. After starting out as a blip in the polls, he now sits at 11 percent in New Hampshire, according to the latest Suffolk two-day tracking poll, putting him in third place.

Full CBS News coverage: Jon Huntsman

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