Jon Huntsman Bows Out of GOP Race, Endorses Mitt Romney [Updated]

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 25: Republican presidential candidate Gov. Jon Huntsman leaves the stage after speaking to students at George Washington University October 25, 2011 in Washington, DC. Huntsman jokingly offered comedian Stephen Colbert the vice presidential nomination during an appearance on
Huntsman. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Jon Huntsman dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination on Monday afternoon and endorsed the front-runner. “I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama,” Huntsman said, officially suspending his campaign. “Despite our differences, I believe that candidate is Gov. Mitt Romney.”

Huntsman’s withdrawal (and Romney rally) came at an 11 a.m. press conference on Monday in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people,” he said, urging Republicans to focus on winning back the White House.

According to the New York Times, Huntsman told his advisers on Sunday that he would end his bid, about a week ahead of the South Carolina primary. Huntsman had put much of his time and the campaign’s resources into New Hampshire, where he finished a disappointing third last week. Looking ahead, he “acknowledged that expectations for him in South Carolina’s primary this week will be ‘very low,’” writes the AP.

According to the pollsters at PPP, the second choice candidates for South Carolina’s Huntsman supporters are Romney at 38 percent and  Paul at 19 percent, followed by Perry and Gingrich at 8 percent each. But the Times reports that an endorsement from Huntsman, who cast himself more toward the center than his GOP rivals, is “unlikely to have any particular influence where Mr. Romney needs it most, among social and religious conservatives who remain wary of Mr. Romney’s ideological inconsistency.”

As late as last Wednesday, Huntsman was still taking aim at Romney in South Carolina. “When you have a candidate who talks about enjoyment in firing people, who talks about pink slips, who makes comments that seem to be so detached from the problems that Americans are facing today, that makes you pretty much unelectable,” Huntsman said. Pretty much, apparently, leaves some wiggle room.

Related: The Commonalities Between GOP Candidates Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney [NYM]

This post has been updated throughout.

Jon Huntsman Bows Out of GOP Race [Updated]