Jon Huntsman quits presidential race, endorses Mitt Romney

Republican presidential candidate former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman descends stairs during an event at Virginia's on King restaurant, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012, in Charleston, S.C. Huntsman will withdraw Monday, Jan. 16 from the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Campaign officials tell The Associated Press Huntsman will endorse Mitt Romney at an event in South Carolina on Monday morning.
Matt Rourke | AP
Republican presidential candidate former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman descends stairs during an event at Virginia's on King restaurant, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012, in Charleston, S.C. Huntsman will withdraw Monday, Jan. 16 from the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Campaign officials tell The Associated Press Huntsman will endorse Mitt Romney at an event in South Carolina on Monday morning.
Posted Jan. 16, 2012, at 5:53 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 16, 2012, at 8:11 p.m.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman abandoned his quest for the presidency Monday morning with an endorsement of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and an unexpectedly sharp condemnation of the “toxic” tone that the Republican primary battle has taken.

“This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time in American history,” Huntsman said in a news conference in which he was flanked by his wife, children, father and South Carolina supporters.

Huntsman had pledged to soldier on after a disappointing third place finish last week in New Hampshire’s primary. He insisted his showing amounted to a “ticket to ride” to South Carolina.

But, political reality seems to have hit Huntsman and his team over the last few days as polling in the Palmetto State, which will hold its primary on Jan. 21, showed him in single digits.

Huntsman’s decision comes less than 24 hours before the six remaining candidates were scheduled to take the stage in Myrtle Beach for a debate. It was one of two debates set for the week, a prospect Huntsman didn’t relish.

Huntsman’s campaign, which was built by a team of advisors while he was still in China serving as the U.S. ambassador to that country, never seemed to gain the necessary altitude to boost him into the top tier.

He was, from the start, a media darling, profiled in a variety of national magazines and newspaper. His daughters — the three oldest — became a social media phenomenon known as the “Jon2012″ girls.

And yet, for all of the buzz surrounding Huntsman, he never seemed able to put it all together. While his campaign aides insisted the Republican electorate was ready for a common sense conservative, Huntsman’s moderation — in tone if not in all of his policies — left him as a man without an obvious constituency within the Republican party.

His early performances on the campaign trail and in debates didn’t help matters. He was wooden and lacking in charisma; his reference to a Nirvana song during one early debate left the political world scratching its collective head about just who he was appealing to.

Huntsman also struggled to raise money although a super PAC with his father’s financial backing did spend heavily on his behalf in New Hampshire. But, after deciding to skip Iowa’s caucuses, the New Hampshire primary turned into an all-or-nothing gamble for him. Huntsman lavished attention on the state and gained some momentum in the closing days before the Granite State vote but still finished well behind Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

His decision to quit the race and throw his support behind Romney should help Romney in South Carolina, as he is now the lone candidate in the field making a direct appeal to the establishment wing of the GOP.

Huntsman is the second candidate to quit the race since voting began in Iowa on Jan. 3. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., stepped aside after a disappointing finish in Iowa.

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