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Huntsman out

Politics | The former Utah governor ends his bid for the GOP nomination and throws his support behind Mitt Romney

And then there were five.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman announced Monday that he is ending his presidential bid. His decision leaves one moderate, two conservatives, and a libertarian left to vie for the Republican nomination. Huntsman's swan song speech included his choice to represent the GOP this fall.

"I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama," Huntsman said to supporters Monday morning in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is Gov. Mitt Romney."

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Less than a week ago Huntsman touted his third-place finish in New Hampshire as a "ticket to ride, ladies and gentleman. Hello, South Carolina."

But, in reality, Huntsman's failure in New Hampshire to at least grab second place, finishing 6 percentage points behind Ron Paul, disappointed many of his supporters. Huntsman, a moderate who served as Obama's ambassador to China, ignored the conservative Iowa caucus and banked most of his resources into a strong showing in moderate New Hampshire. With South Carolina's more conservative voters up next, Huntsman was not expected to get much of a boost from South Carolina's Saturday primary.

Huntsman did leave the race with some parting words on the "toxic form of our political discourse." He urged the remaining candidates to halt the negative campaign tactics: "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 our nation's history."

Huntsman lasted less than 24 hours after receiving a surprise endorsement from The State newspaper, published in South Carolina's capital, Columbia. Polls over the weekend showed that only 5 percent of South Carolina voters supported Huntsman. While that was near the bottom of the field, that represents a nice bump for frontrunner Romney if most of that five percent goes to the also moderate former Massachusetts governor. Romney, according to polls, currently enjoys support from 32 percent of the state's likely voters.

With Huntsman gone, attention now may turn to Texas Gov. Rick Perry as the next likeliest candidate to exit the race. Perry said Sunday that he would decide after Saturday's primary whether he has enough support to continue onto the next primary in Florida on Jan. 31. He is fighting for a win or a close second-place finish in South Carolina.

But second place right now belongs to Newt Gingrich with 21 percent of likely voters backing the former House Speaker from Georgia. Gingrich is locked in a battle with former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania for the title of the most conservative non-Romney option for the GOP.

"Moderates are backing moderates," Santorum said Monday about Huntsman's support of Romney. "That's sort of the bottom line. No surprise there."

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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