Ending Campaign, Huntsman Plans to Drop Out and Back Romney (Time.com)
Jon Huntsman signaled that he will bow out of the Republican presidential race Monday morning and endorse Mitt Romney, winnowing the GOP field and giving Romney a boost just five days before South Carolina’s pivotal Jan. 21 primary.
Huntsman will announce his decision, revealed Sunday night by campaign officials, at a Monday morning speech in Myrtle Beach. The move comes less than a week after the former Utah governor battled to a third-place finish in New Hampshire, the state on which he staked his campaign. (VIDEO: ‘Humble’ Jon Huntsman Announces 2012 Run)
After failing to break through in the Granite State, Huntsman’s days in the race were numbered. Though he treated the disappointing result as a triumph — confetti showered the stage at his New Hampshire send-off Tuesday night — and journeyed south vowing to fight on, Huntsman’s campaign was running on fumes, bereft of the money and momentum required to run ads or contest a protracted primary fight. While his exit was anticipated, the timing was a surprise. Earlier Sunday, he earned the endorsement of South Carolina’s The State newspaper.
Advisers cast Huntsman’s decision as a way to help Romney to wrap up the nomination and turn his sights to Barack Obama. The former Massachusetts governor, fresh off wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, is scrambling to fend off attacks from a slew of conservative challengers who see this week’s Palmetto State primary as their last, best hope to stall Romney’s push for the nomination. Huntsman’s slim support base — after notching 17% in New Hampshire, he has polled in the low single-digits in South Carolina — is most likely to throw its support to Romney. (MORE: The Huntsman Fallacy)
Whether Romney’s camp will embrace the endorsement is another matter. After pledging to make comity a hallmark of his campaign, Huntsman sharpened his tone toward the Republican front-runner as his own fortunes sputtered. In recent weeks, he bitterly hammered Romney for being a political “chameleon” who lacked core convictions and “likes firing people.” On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Huntsman suggested Romney’s remarks about sacking insurance companies, taken against the backdrop of his record at Bain Capital, rendered him “completely unelectable.” Now Huntsman is calling Romney the GOP’s best hope to oust Obama in the fall.
Huntsman’s exit caps a campaign that sputtered badly after a splashy beginning. A popular governor with impeccable foreign-policy credentials, Huntsman’s plunge into the presidential race last summer was met with media fanfare and whispers among Democrats that his moderate tone and knack for knitting together bipartisan coalitions could make him a tough general-election match-up. His campaign kickoff in June painted him as a conservative in the Reagan mold. But he struggled from the start to find a foothold in a crowded GOP field. (MORE: Jon Huntsman: The Potential Republican Presidential Candidate Democrats Most Fear)
As Utah governor, Huntsman compiled a conservative record on fiscal issues, abortion and gun rights while presiding over a surge in job growth. Instead of heralding these credentials, Huntsman often preferred the language of moderation. He decried partisan bickering, made a show of bucking GOP doctrine on issues like global warming and refused to criticize Obama, under whom he served as Ambassador to China. With primary voters hungry for red meat, he served up a steady diet of civility and compromise, and the recipe didn’t take. At debates Huntsman was by turns wooden and jocular, muddying his strong grip of foreign policy and conservative tax plan with an off-kilter joke or a Mandarin phrase. Behind the scenes, his campaign was racked by infighting early on. In one of the race’s richest ironies, Huntsman — the wealthy son of a billionaire chemical manufacturer — was hamstrung all along by a lack of money, struggling to dredge up enough cash to go up on the air until it was too late. (Though in the end, his super PAC spent some $2 million to run spots in New Hampshire, more than any other campaign.)
It wasn’t enough. As a relative moderate running in a bull market for conservatives, Huntsman may have been doomed from the start, but he inflicted further damage by failing to zero in on a message. A few days before the New Hampshire primary, during a campaign stop in Concord, Huntsman was asked whether the experience of running had disabused him of the notion that there was still a place in politics for a centrist like himself. Huntsman, whose aides labored daily to cast him as a conservative alternative to Romney, didn’t bother to dog whistle. “Some people like to call it centrist or something else. I do what I do based on a view of this country and its future,” he said. “I’m a realist, at the end of the day. I don’t like to spend a lot of time posturing…I’m just going to be who I am.” Too many voters were left unsure what that was.
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