Then There Were Five: Huntsman to Quit Race, Endorse Romney

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  January 16, 2012 at 8:28 AM EST

Jon Huntsman; photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Jon Huntsman visits a restaurant to greet voters Sunday in South Carolina. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Updated 12:30 p.m. ET | As expected, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman said Monday he is dropping out of the presidential race. He urged his fellow Republicans to “cease attacking each other” and speak directly to the American people about how GOP policies can produce jobs and improve lives.

Watch his speech:

Original Story:

The Morning Line

Jon Huntsman, who attracted votes from Democrats and worried President Obama’s team in Chicago, will step aside and embrace front-runner Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination Monday morning in South Carolina.

The former Utah governor picked up enough momentum in the final days before last week’s New Hampshire primary for a third-place spot, and said he’d take that as a “ticket to ride” into South Carolina. An influential newspaper, The State, endorsed Huntsman’s candidacy on Sunday, suggesting that he was the other “sensible, experienced grownup” in the race.

But campaign aides told reporters late Sunday night that he was leaving the race and suggested that Huntsman believed he would get more of a bounce from his New Hampshire finish.

Newt Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond was the first to issue a statement Sunday night, while Huntsman’s other formal rivals kept quiet. “With Governor Huntsman dropping out, we are one step closer to a bold Reagan conservative winning the GOP nomination,” Hammond said.

Huntsman’s exit, coupled with a group of evangelical Christian leaders at first fracturing and then choosing to endorse former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s candidacy, makes for an interesting dynamic as the remaining hopefuls meet for a debate Monday night in South Carolina.

J.P. Duffy of the Family Research Council told Fox News that the group of social conservatives wanted to back someone who represents their values “before it was too late.”

The voting came after meetings Friday and Saturday at a ranch outside of Austin. Every candidate but Huntsman sent spokesmen. Texas Gov. Rick Perry did not make even the first round of balloting. Fighting President Obama’s health care law, debt and abortion were the top priorities, and the 114 leaders took three rounds of voting before agreeing on Santorum.

Fox News reported that on the third ballot, “Santorum received more than 70 percent of the votes cast — some conservative leaders who had been backing Gingrich changed their votes in the end to support Santorum” as the better positioned to defeat Obama.

Politico reported that Focus on the Family founder James Dobson will publicly endorse Santorum this week.

Gingrich spun the results to his favor, saying the evangelicals were unanimous in their support for “Not-Romney.”

“Conservative evangelical leaders spoke very clearly today that Mitt Romney will not be the nominee,” Gingrich aide Hammond said in a statement. “It is encouraging for the Republican Party to have two choices in Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.”

Gingrich backer and national campaign co-chairman J.C. Watts also issued a statement positing that both Gingrich and Santorum “have friends in the evangelical community who are committed to helping nominate a conservative.”

PALMETTO STATE PUSH

For the four remaining Republican contenders looking to blunt Romney’s momentum after the former Massachusetts governor’s victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina may very well be their last chance.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released over the weekend showed just how tough a task Romney’s rivals have before them.

Romney received 37 support in the survey, followed by Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, each with 16 percent. Gingrich captured 12 percent, while Perry, who skipped New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina, took just 6 percent.

A survey released Friday by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling revealed a much closer race, however, with Romney at 29 percent, followed by Gingrich at 24 percent, Paul at 15 percent, Santorum at 14 percent and Perry at 6 percent.

During a Saturday forum hosted by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gingrich looked to make up some ground on the GOP front-runner, going after Romney’s tenure as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital. But the former House speaker was stopped in his tracks as the audience booed him when he began the attack. Huckabee then reminded Gingrich of the event’s ground rules, which included not mentioning or attacking the other candidates.

After taking a few days off from campaigning, Paul returned to the trail Sunday and picked up the backing of South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis, a strong fiscal conservative and favorite of the Tea Party.

“Ron Paul’s record matches his rhetoric, his fiscal plan matches the fiscal challenges that our nation is facing and his movement represents the taxpayers whose interests have been ignored in the political process for far too long,” Davis said in a statement.

“We’re excited and grateful to have Sen. Davis’s endorsement, as it carries tremendous weight in South Carolina,” said Paul campaign chairman Jesse Benton. “Sen. Davis knows a true fiscal conservative when he sees one. He’s uniquely qualified to distinguish between establishment candidate Mitt Romney and the conservative alternative to Romney, Ron Paul.”

With five days to go until the first-in-the-South primary, Paul, Gingrich, Perry and Santorum will all be looking for a game-changing moment in Monday night’s debate in Myrtle Beach or at Thursday’s forum, which will take place in Charleston.

For more South Carolina reading, check out Hotline editor Reid Wilson’s detailed map of the state’s most influential regions when it comes to Saturday’s vote. He notes that some of the candidates are ignoring the population centers and irritating the locals.

Jeremy Peters of The New York Times, meanwhile, reports on the flood of ads in the Palmetto State, with spending on TV and radio nearing $11 million. The story breaks down the numbers.

Candidates and super PACs have committed about $8 million to advertising here on broadcast TV since the beginning of December, according to figures provided by a Republican strategist who closely monitors media spending. In 2008, when five Republican candidates were spending heavily here, the amount spent on broadcast TV was $6.9 million, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group….

Kantar Media added up the number of times Republican presidential campaign commercials appeared on broadcast television here in 2008: 17,629. As of late Friday afternoon, with eight days to go until the primary, Kantar had counted 13,398 commercials, meaning the 2012 total will outpace 2008, probably by a significant amount, because advertising tends to be heaviest in the final week of a campaign.

ON THE NEWS HOUR

Don’t miss the analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks from Friday.

We also looked at Romney playing defense on his Bain record.

And, Gwen Ifill outlined five things to watch ahead of the South Carolina primary.

BAIN FALLOUT

The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that three of the former factory workers who appear in the anti-Romney “documentary” about Bain Capital “say they weren’t laid off by Bain, as the film implied, but got promotions and raises after Bain bought the plant they worked in.”

The Huffington Post also looks at the money behind the “King of Bain” film and attack ads funded by the pro-Gingrich Winning our Future super PAC:

The film was produced by a Republican operative named Barry Bennett while he was consulting for another super PAC, which supports Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the presidential race. Bennett insists that he paid $40,000 out of his own pocket to make the documentary after reviewing opposition research gathered by Romney’s opponents in the 2008 presidential campaign.

But Bennett has a history as a frontman for Republican Party ventures financed by donors intent on maintaining their anonymity. Since the 1990s, he has headed two nonprofits set up for the purpose of influencing elections while maintaining donor secrecy. He has operated within the underbelly of politics where secret money flows through obscure trusts and foundations to finance attack ads and campaigns free of fingerprints.

2012 LINE ITEMS

Slate contributor Sasha Issenberg profiles Rayid Ghani, the “chief scientist” of the Obama campaign working on a text analytics data collection project nicknamed Dreamcatcher.

From the story:

Obama’s campaign has boasted that one of their priorities this year is something they’ve described only as “microlistening,” but would officially not discuss how they intend to deploy insights gleaned from their new research into text analytics. “We have no plans to read out our data/analytics/voter contact strategy,” spokesman Ben LaBolt writes by email. “That just telegraphs to the other guys what we’re up to.”

The New York Times reports on Santorum’s use of earmarks while in Congress, saying that a close look at his record “sheds light on another aspect of his political personality, one that is at odds with the reformer image he has tried to convey on the trail: his prowess as a Washington insider.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott told the Wall Street Journal he’ll endorse someone before the Sunshine State’s Jan. 31 primary.

Stephen Colbert appeared on ABC’s “This Week” to tout his candidacy, and promote his “attack ad.”

Paul won the “Saddle Up Texas Straw Poll,” taking 27.9 percent of the in-person vote and 54 percent of the votes sent by text message.

TWEET OF THE MORNING

@alexwagner: When asked about Huntsman’s exit at dinner, Fernstrom replied, “No comment. But the bread pudding is outstanding.” http://nyti.ms/zPu7mg

OUTSIDE THE LINES

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Romney supporter, told Oprah Winfrey that he isn’t ruling out a bid in 2016. “I’ll be much more ready four years from now,” Christie said.

On Friday, the NewsHour examined President Obama’s move to consolidate agencies by talking with Bloomberg News’ Hans Nichols and Roll Call’s Steven Dennis. Watch the segment here and read Dennis’ story about how this is effectively a proposal to eliminate the filibuster.

“It’s official: Congress ended its least-productive year in modern history after passing 80 bills — fewer than during any other session since year-end records began being kept in 1947,” Stephen Dinan writes in The Washington Times.

The anti-union group Center for Union Facts plans to run this TV ad during the Monday night debate on Fox News advocating for the Employee Rights Act.

Roll Call’s Emma Dumain looks at how congressional security has evolved in the year since Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot.

ON THE TRAIL

All events listed in Eastern Time.

  • The five GOP contenders meet at 9 p.m. for a debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., hosted by Fox News, the South Carolina Republican Party and the Wall Street Journal.

  • Rick Santorum holds a town hall in Columbia at 7:30 a.m., addresses the South Carolina Tea Party Convention in Myrtle Beach at 3:05 p.m. and delivers remarks at the Faith & Freedom Coalition presidential forum in Myrtle Beach at 4:15 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich holds four events in Myrtle Beach ahead of the debate: a breakfast at 8 a.m., a town hall at 1:30 p.m., delivering remarks to the South Carolina Tea Party Convention at 3:15 p.m. and speaking at the Faith & Freedom Coalition presidential forum at 4:45 p.m.

  • Rick Perry attends a Martin Luther King Jr. tribute breakfast in Myrtle Beach at 8:30 a.m., holds a town hall in Myrtle Beach at 11 a.m. and addresses the Faith & Freedom Coalition presidential forum at 3 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney addresses the Faith & Freedom Coalition presidential forum at 3 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.