Republican Jon Huntsman, who has based his 2012 campaign for the White House almost exclusively on a strong showing in New Hampshire, has been rewarded with endorsements from two newspapers in the state with an early primary election.
The Keene Sentinel and the Valley News both praised the former U.S. ambassador to China in editorials on Sunday.
The endorsements were another snub to Mitt Romney, a former governor of neighboring Massachusetts who has dominated most opinion polls in New Hampshire this year but whose lead has recently narrowed in the race for the Republican nomination to run for president.
In late November, the only state-wide New Hampshire newspaper, the conservative Union Leader, endorsed former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich over Romney.
Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, has pitched himself as a moderate Republican alternative who is best suited to challenge President Barack Obama's bid for re-election in November 2012.
Huntsman has held well over 100 campaign events in the small Northeast state and polls suggest his message has started to catch on with New Hampshire's independent voters.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Huntsman predicted an upset victory in the state and said his competitors are "running for panderer in chief more than anything else."
Recent surveys have shown Huntsman vying for third place in the New Hampshire with U.S. Representative Ron Paul.
In endorsing Huntsman, the Keene Sentinel praised the candidate's international affairs and capacity for "flexibility and nuance."
"His principal qualifying distinctions include a boldness in economic policy that belies his temperate personal demeanor and a belief that the country's divisions cannot be closed by bulldozers moving in only one direction," the paper said.
The Valley News, the largest newspaper in New Hampshire's Upper Valley region, termed Huntsman "a candidate whose views are solidly conservative, but not myopically so."
The paper also took a slap at Romney and Gingrich.
"The former has raised the flip-flop to an art form, while the latter has done the same for hypocrisy," it said. "We recommend, in the hopes that the cooler heads will prevail in New Hampshire and elsewhere."
Many voters are looking at the candidates for the first time as the election nears, Huntsman said, adding: "I am the consistent conservative in this race. I'm not going to pander."
The big issues at play are the nation's "economic deficit," which is now a "national security threat," and the "trust deficit" embodied by a highly unpopular Congress, he said.
ROMNEY ALSO PRAISED
Romney was not totally left out of the endorsements in New Hampshire.
The Portsmouth Herald, in the state's Seacoast region, said Romney's "financial acumen" - in his career at financial firm Bain Capital, running the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and as a governor - made him the best Republican candidate.
The Herald also called Romney "a good family man" - a quality the candidate's campaign has emphasized in recent weeks to differentiate Romney from the thrice-married Gingrich.
New Hampshire will hold the first primary election on January 10, a week after Iowa kicks of the Republican contest with its statewide caucuses.
(Reporting By Ros Krasny; Editing by Anthony Boadle)