Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has decided to end his presidential candidacy and will formally exit the race today, the Washington Post reported Sunday night, citing two unnamed sources briefed on his thinking. He is expected to endorse former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Huntsman had pledged to soldier on after a disappointing third-place finish last week in New Hampshire's primary. He insisted his showing amounted to a "ticket to ride" to South Carolina.
But, political reality seems to have hit Huntsman and his team over the last few days as polling in the Palmetto State, which will hold its primary on Saturday, showed him in single digits.
Huntsman's decision comes less than 24 hours before the six remaining candidates were scheduled to take the stage in Myrtle Beach for a debate. It was one of two debates set for the week, a prospect Huntsman didn't relish.
Huntsman's campaign, which was built by a team of advisers while he was still in China serving as the U.S. ambassador to that country, never seemed to gain the necessary altitude to boost him into the top tier.
He was, from the start, a media darling, profiled in a variety of national magazines and newspaper. His daughters — the three oldest — became a social media phenomenon known as the "Jon2012" girls.
While his campaign aides insisted the Republican electorate was ready for a common sense conservative, Huntsman's moderation — in tone if not in all of his policies — left him as a man without an obvious constituency within the GOP.
Huntsman also struggled to raise money although a super PAC with his father's financial backing did spend heavily on his behalf in New Hampshire. But, after deciding to skip Iowa's caucuses, the New Hampshire primary turned into an all-or-nothing gamble for him. Huntsman lavished attention on the state and gained some momentum in the closing days before the Granite State vote but still finished well behind Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
His decision to throw his support behind Romney should help Romney in South Carolina, as he is now the lone candidate in the field making a direct appeal to the establishment wing of the GOP.
Huntsman is the second candidate to quit the race since voting began in Iowa on Jan. 3. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., stepped aside after a disappointing finish in Iowa.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday defended the four Marines who were depicted in a video last week urinating on the corpses of three Taliban insurgents, arguing "what's really disturbing to me is just, kind of, the over-the-top rhetoric from this administration and their disdain for the military." The Republican presidential candidate told CNN's State of the Union: "Obviously, 18-, 19-year-old kids make stupid mistakes all too often, and that's what's occurred here."