Huntsman did not name names in aiming criticism at his rivals, but he did take a shot at President Obama for engaging in what Huntsman called “class warfare” and said it contributed to divisiveness in American politics. But Huntsman, who often talked on the campaign trail about rebuilding trust in the political process, made clear that he thinks the GOP race has taken an ugly turn.
Huntsman’s move comes less than a week after he placed a weak third in the New Hampshire primary. He had staked his entire candidacy on a strong finish there. Despite the outcome, he had vowed to take his campaign to South Carolina, calling his finish a “ticket to ride” in the upcoming contest, despite the long odds.
By Sunday, however, he had concluded that the better course was to bow out of the race, the officials said.
“There was no sense standing in the way of Romney,” one Huntsman adviser said. “Every vote we took in South Carolina and Florida was from him.”
Romney is battling to win the Palmetto State primary, which will be held Saturday, and a victory could effectively end the nomination fight after only three contests. Romney won the Iowa caucuses by just eight votes but cruised to an impressive victory in New Hampshire.
Huntsman’s decision to leave the contest and support Romney should help the former Massachusetts governor in South Carolina, as he will be the lone candidate making a direct pitch to the establishment wing of the GOP.
The rest of the field — former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — are appealing to the party’s most conservative voters. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) has his own constituency, which is expected to continue to deliver votes for him.
Santorum won the endorsement of a group of evangelical Christian leaders over the weekend, and he hopes it will help coalesce the party’s conservative base around his candidacy. But neither Gingrich nor Perry is backing off. A splintered conservative vote is Romney’s path to victory in a primary that has supported the eventual nominee in every Republican presidential race since 1980.
The remaining candidates will debate in Myrtle Beach on Monday at 9 p.m. in a forum that will be aired on Fox News. They will square off again Thursday at 8 p.m. in Charleston, S.C., in an event to be aired on CNN.
Huntsman informed his senior staff of his decision Sunday night after discussing it with his family. According to one official, they concluded that, despite what he believed was some momentum from his third-place finish in New Hampshire, his continuation in the race would only hinder Romney’s candidacy and that it was best to get out now rather than take votes away from the GOP front-runner.