It has been a whirlwind 24 hours for the six remaining GOP candidates. With just two days of campaigning remaining before the New Hampshire primary, the excitement is high, the gloves are off, and punches are being thrown.
The candidate with the biggest grin today is Jon Huntsman. After a strong debate performance this morning, Huntsman was mobbed by media at his first campaign event of the day.
The meet-and-greet at a Hampstead, N.H., coffee shop was so packed with people that Huntsman hopped up on the barista counter to deliver his stump speech. As ABC’s Susan Archer reports, there were by far more journalists at Huntsman’s Bean Towne Coffee House event today than any Huntsman event to date.
The former Utah governor said the turnout showed that he is “moving up and up and up” in the polls and gaining momentum in the Live Free or Die state. Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucus, has staked his campaign on New Hampshire, but the latest NBC/Marist poll found he was still has single-digit support in the Granite state.
The same poll found that Mitt Romney has a solid lead in New Hampshire, with 42 percent of likely GOP voters in the state saying they plan to vote for him.
The former Massachusetts governor tried to connect with worried voters in Rochester, New Hampshire, today by saying he too worried about being fired.
“I know what its’ like to worry about whether or not you are going to get fired,” Romney said. “There are times when I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”
But considering Romney has an estimated net worth of more than $200 million, Democrats quickly pounced on the opportunity to paint his as out-of-touch, calling him a “a corporate layoff specialist ” who ”wants to make people believe he feels their pain.”
“That dog won’t hunt,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.
Rick Perry, who fell to 1 percent in the New Hampshire poll, sought to dispel rumors that his campaign may be drawing to a close. After finishing fifth in Iowa, many speculated that the Texas governor would drop out.
“I never quit a day in my life,” Perry said while campaigning in South Carolina Sunday. “I never quit in adversity. I’m not going to quit on America. I’m going to stay in this race and stay in this fight because our children are worth the fight.”
Rick Santorum, who stands in third place in New Hampshire with 13 percent, said today he has “no expectation of winning” in the Granite State, but will compete there “simply to keep the process going.”
Santorum spent his day Sunday campaigning in South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 21 and where he said he has “the best chance of winning.”
But his virtual resignation in New Hampshire did not stop the former Pennsylvania senator from going on the offensive in at the NBC debate Sunday morning.
Santorum had some harsh words for Ron Paul, who is polling ahead of him in second place in New Hampshire, blasting Paul for being “out there on the margins” and not being able to pass his sweeping policy agenda.
Paul’s Super PAC has run ads in New Hampshire that criticize Santorum as being “corrupt.” Paul continued his criticism at Saturday’s debate, calling Santorum a “a big government, big spending individual.
Santorum brushed off those charges today as “laughable,” saying he is for “common sense conservatism” and is “not a libertarian.”
But where the debate Saturday was relatively void of harsh attacks, by today the candidates had sharpened their rhetoric into pointed jabs, or, in the case of Newt Gingrich, into righteous lunch meat.
At the NBC debate this morning, Gingrich charged Romney with spewing “pious baloney” after Romney tried to make the claim that his private-sector experience made him better qualified than candidates, such as Gingirch, who spent their careers in Washington.
“Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?” Gingrich shot back during the debate. “The fact is you ran in ’94 and lost. You’ve been running consistently for years and years and years.”
Gingrich later used his newly coined anti-Romney tag line to raise money, buying a promoted tweet, which shows up multiple times at the top of Twitter-users’ feeds, that said, “Help me stop Romney’s pious baloney today” and included a link to his campaign donation page.
While Gingrich enjoyed his lunch meat metaphor, Perry snacked on some good old fashioned hot dog meat at a campaign event in Spartanburg, S.C., today.
The Texas governor ordered a “chili cheese delight, extra governor.”
ABC News’ Susan Archer, Arlette Saenz, Russell Goldman and Michael Falcone contributed to this report.