Huntsman suspends campaign, endorses Romney

Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, accompanied by his wife Mary Kaye, announces he is ending his campaign, Monday, Jan. 16, 2012, in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman suspended his 2012 GOP presidential primary campaign after a third place finish in the New Hampshire primary failed to give his struggling campaign a much-needed boost.

After formally announcing his withdrawal, Huntsman threw his endorsement to current front-runner Mitt Romney, thus ending any rumors he may seek an independent bid for the presidency.

Late last week, Huntsman had been telling reporters he was pleased with some of the larger crowds and support he was getting in deeply conservative South Carolina. Conservatives were largely seen to be wary of supporting Huntsman, a former ambassador to China under President Obama's administration and a Mormon who has expressed support for climate change issues and teaching evolution in classroom.

Huntsman had largely staked his campaign on success in New Hampshire. He mostly skipped campaigning Iowa, and had been hoping a strong finish the in the Granite State would draw in more voters and donors. However, after finishing behind Romney and Ron Paul, it appears his campaign advisers felt continuing was not worth it.

Word of the Huntsman withdrawal came on the same day The State, South Carolina's largest newspaper, endorsed him for president.

The endorsement said there were "two sensible, experienced grownups in the race," referring to Romney and Huntsman. But it said Huntsman "is more principled, has a far more impressive resume and offers a significantly more important message."

On Wednesday, Huntsman had said that his expectations in the Palmetto State would be "very low" compared to what they were in New Hampshire. His support in South Carolina was only in single digits, according to recent polls.

Responses from other campaigns were beginning to trickle in late Sunday.

In a statement, Newt Gingrich's campaign said: "With Governor Huntsman dropping out, we are one step closer to a bold Reagan conservative winning the GOP nomination."

Special Section: Campaign 2012

Huntsman's resume suggested he could have been a major contender for the GOP nomination: businessman, diplomat, governor, veteran of four presidential administrations, an expert on China and on foreign trade.

Yet Huntsman was almost invisible in a race often dominated by Romney, a fellow Mormon. One reason was timing. For months, Romney and other declared or expected-to-declare candidates drew media attention and wooed voters in early primary states. Huntsman, meanwhile, was half a world away, serving as ambassador to China until he resigned in late April. Nearly two more months would pass before his kickoff speech on June 22 in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

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 also tried to offer a different tenor, promising a campaign marked by civility. "I don't think you need to run down somebody's reputation in order to run for the office of president," he said.

While Huntsman was often critical of his former boss — he joined those saying Obama had failed as a leader — and occasionally jabbed at Romney, he spent more of his time in debates pushing his own views for improving the economy than thumping the president or his opponents.

In light of his work in the Obama administration, Republicans seemed wary of Huntsman. While he cast his appointment in August 2009 as U.S. ambassador to China as answering the call to serve his country, his critics grumbled that he had in fact been working on behalf of the opposition.

Huntsman was conservative in matters of taxes and the reach of the federal government, but he was out of step with most conservatives in his support of civil unions for gay couples. On matters of science, he poked fun at his skeptical rivals in a pre-debate tweet: "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."

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.