[Update: Huntsman has officially dropped out and endorsed Romney. See his announcement here.]
Jon Huntsman Jr., former governor of Utah and ambassador to China, will end his campaign for president and endorse fellow Republican Mitt Romney on Monday.
The New York Times reports that Huntsman informed his advisors Sunday that he will be dropping out of the race and endorsing Romney, following a week of campaigning in South Carolina where he had hoped to revive his campaign after a disappointing third place finish in the New Hampshire primary.
The report from multiple sources that Huntsman will endorse Romney may come as a surprise, considering that the former ambassador has often been critical of the front runner's philosophical "core" and record as governor of Massachusetts. A source close to the campaign told POLITICO that Huntsman's rationale for backing Romney is that he didn't want to block the person best prepared in the field to beat Obama, and then to lead the country and grapple with the economy.
Huntsman completely bypassed Iowa and had focused nearly his entire campaign operation on New Hampshire. Despite this, Huntsman finished six points behind runner-up Ron Paul and twenty-two points back from winner Mitt Romney in the January 10 primary. Many political pundits called his campaign finished that night, but a visibly jubilant Huntsman told supporters that the third place finish gave them all a "ticket to ride" on to the South Carolina primary.
Word of the Huntsman withdrawal came on the same day that The State, South Carolina's largest newspaper, endorsed him for president.
Huntsman announced his candidacy for president last June from Liberty State Park, New Jersey, where Ronald Reagan had done the same in 1980.
"For the first time in our history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got," the Republican hopeful said at the time. "This, ladies and gentlemen, is totally unacceptable and totally un-American."
Huntsman entered the race with the record of a businessman, diplomat, governor, veteran of four presidential administrations, and expert on China and on foreign trade. The Associated Press notes that throughout his campaign, Huntsman was often compared to fellow Mormon Mitt Romney, who had contended in the 2008 Republican primary and spent the time in between elections traveling the country to support fellow Republicans and build upon his already well-known name:
To distinguish his candidacy in a crowded field, Huntsman positioned himself as a tax-cutting, budget-balancing chief executive and former business executive who could rise above partisan politics. That would prove to be a hard sell to the conservatives dominating the early voting contests, especially in an election cycle marked by bitter divisions between Republicans and Democrats and a boiling antipathy for President Barack Obama.
Huntsman's time spent working for President Obama remained unsettling for many Republicans. The former governor was often seen in the media being civil with political adversaries who praised him, while at the same time making several hostile remarks aimed at fellow conservatives.
The New York Times notes that "his moderate positions and understated style never seemed right in an angry year of disaffection." The Associated Press summarizes Huntsman campaign as:
"In the end, Huntsman didn't seem to register, crazy or otherwise, with Republicans looking for an alternative to Romney or a winner against Obama. The former Utah governor was routinely at the bottom of national polls, barely registering at 1 or 2 percent, a reflection of the faint impression he made in the GOP debates.
Central to Huntsman's New Hampshire strategy was its open Republican primary, which allowed independents to vote along with declared party members. He gambled that he could attract moderate voters, Republicans and independents alike, by presenting himself as successful conservative leader who wasn't interested in engaging in a culture war.
He called his third-place showing a "ticket to ride" to South Carolina, but his distant finish behind Romney and runner-up Ron Paul was widely regarded as lackluster."
Huntsman is the second candidate to quit the race since voting began in Iowa on January 3. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann stepped aside after a disappointing finish in Iowa. Herman Cain had dropped his bid in December and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty dropped out shortly after a disappointing finish in the Iowa straw poll this summer.
The former Utah governor had been scheduled to appear at two debates this week, which will now be narrowed down to Romney, Gingrich, Perry, Paul and Santorum.
Huntsman will endorse Romney in a speech at 11 a.m. Monday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.