BY MICHAEL BOWMAN – The field of Republican candidates vying to challenge President Barack Obama has shrunk with the withdrawal of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
From the beginning, Jon Huntsman’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination was considered a longshot. Less well-known than other, better-funded competitors, the two-term governor and former U.S. ambassador to China did not compete in the Iowa caucuses and finished a disappointing third in last week’s New Hampshire primary.
Addressing supporters in South Carolina, Huntsman criticized in-fighting among Republican contenders and what he termed “toxic” political discourse, urging a unified effort to tackle America’s economic challenges. He threw his support behind Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.
“My candidacy was staked on the simple principle of ‘country first’, and driven by a refusal to pass down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less prosperous and less competitive than the one we inherited. Today, I am suspending my campaign for the presidency,” Huntsman stated. “I believe it is time for our party to unite around the candidate best-equipped to beat Barack Obama. Despite our differences, I believe that candidate is Governor Mitt Romney.”
Former Massachusetts Governor Romney, a Mormon like Huntsman, was not present for the endorsement.
Huntsman’s withdrawal leaves Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Senator Rick Santorum, and Texas Governor Rick Perry as the remaining contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.
South Carolina is the third state to hold nominating contests, and voters go to the polls Saturday. The eventual nominee will face Barack Obama, a Democrat seeking re-election, in November.