(Adds Huntsman comment, campaign statement, changes dateline, prvs WASHINGTON)
DERRY, N.H. (Reuters) - Republican presidential contender Jon Huntsman defended his chief strategist Thursday after a report of turmoil and dissension in his struggling White House campaign.
Huntsman defended top strategist John Weaver, who was the focus of a Politico story outlining complaints about Weaver's aggressive style that came from a former adviser and Huntsman family friend.
"John Weaver is a critically important part of our team," Huntsman told reporters while campaigning in New Hampshire. "He's our strategist. Has been from day one and he will be. He's a great friend and he's indispensable to this campaign."
Later, at an appearance in Derry, Huntsman said he was keeping the campaign uproar in perspective.
"When the stock market falls 500 points, that's a tough day," Huntsman said, adding that there is a lack of confidence in the U.S. economy.
The Politico story featured charges from David Fischer that Weaver was verbally abusive to staff members. It suggested his style had led to the departure of other aides including former campaign manager Susan Wiles, who resigned last month.
In a statement, the campaign suggested most voters were uninterested in staff squabbles, saying Huntsman is "focused on solving this nation's problems, not inside-the-Beltway banter."
After a 20-minute stump speech to about 80 potential supporters in Derry, Huntsman took audience questions that focused mostly on the rancid atmosphere in the U.S. Congress. He was not asked about his campaign staffing.
Huntsman, a former U.S. envoy to China and two-term Utah governor, has gotten off to a slow start in his campaign. He has been mired in the low single digits in polls and generated little momentum since his June campaign launch.
After Wiles quit, the campaign promised a more focused and aggressive strategy.
In New Hampshire, Huntsman said the campaign was moving in the right direction and "firing on all cylinders." Huntsman now has about 20 staff working in the key early-voting state.
Asked if more changes were coming, he said any organization always considered fine tuning. "Why wouldn't you look for ways to improve here and there?" he said.
Weaver was a top strategist in Republican John McCain's presidential campaign in 2000 and again when he ran for the White House bid in 2007 but he left McCain after a power struggle as the campaign flagged in the summer of 2007.
McCain's retooled campaign captured the 2008 Republican nomination but lost to Democrat Barack Obama. (Reporting by Ros Krasny in Derry and Barbara Liston in Orlando, Fla.; Writing by John Whitesides, Editing by Bill Trott)
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