Jon Huntsman

January 16, 2012 by staff 

Jon HuntsmanJon Huntsman, Republican presidential candidate Jon M. Huntsman Jr. intends to drop out of the nomination contest on Monday and endorse rival Mitt Romney, the Huntsman campaign said.

“He’s going to endorse Gov. Romney tomorrow and urge the party to come together,” one person briefed on events said.

A Huntsman aide said Mr. Huntsman was proud of his third-place showing in New Hampshire last week but felt his campaign was standing in the way of a Romney win in Saturday’s primary election in South Carolina.

“He decided to drop out to clear the way for the person who is clearly the best suited to beat Barack Obama,” the aide said.

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman descends stairs during an event at Virginia’s on King restaurant in Charleston, S.C. on Sunday.

Mr. Huntsman is preparing to make his announcement Monday morning in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The Republican candidates are gathering in the city for a televised debate Monday night.

A former aide, Fred Davis, said late Sunday that he wasn’t aware of Mr. Huntsman’s decision but that the cause “wasn’t money.”

“We finally had that,” Mr. Davis said in an email. Mr. Davis had been the candidate’s ad guru until leaving to direct a separate “Super PAC” supporting the Huntsman candidacy. Mr. Huntsman’s father, billionaire Jon M. Huntsman Sr., has also played a role in the Super PAC.

Mr. Huntsman launched his campaign in June amid high expectations. His announcement speech in front of the Statue of Liberty, modeled after Ronald Reagan’s, was covered by a legion of national political reporters, who then accompanied him on a chartered jet to campaign in New Hampshire.

He promised to run on a platform of civility and competence, pledging to restore faith in the American political system.

But his previous job, as President Obama’s ambassador to China, hobbled his candidacy from the outset. His opponents labeled him an Obama supporter, a charge buttressed by a glowing letter Mr. Huntsman had written to the president in 2009, praising him as a “brilliant leader.”

While calling himself a “consistent conservative,” Mr. Huntsman cast himself as the candidate best able to win independents and Democrats in a general election. But some of his policy positions, such as his support for civil unions for gay couples, left him little audience. He had skipped Iowa’s caucuses, where social conservatives hold influence.

He ended up drawing faithful donors and supporters from within moneyed circles in Manhattan, some of them disenchanted Democrats.

Mr. Huntsman, a former Utah governor, also struggled to clarify his core identity as a candidate. He launched his campaign with a series of high-concept online videos, produced by Mr. Davis, which featured a motocross rider zipping across the Utah desert but which included little political content. The ads left many GOP operatives baffled.

His campaign first set up its headquarters in Florida, gambling that his candidacy would find fertile ground there. But when he failed to budge in the polls, Mr. Huntsman moved his entire operation to New Hampshire.

His decision to go all-in on New Hampshire failed to pan out, with Mr. Romney winning the state last week by a wide margin. Mr. Huntsman attempted to portray his third-place finish as a win, saying it had given him “a ticket to ride” on to the next contest.

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