Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman will withdraw from the Republican presidential race Monday and endorse front-runner Mitt Romney, according to a senior official with the Huntsman campaign.
Huntsman is expected to announce his decision to drop out at an event at 11 a.m. in Myrtle Beach.
While the more moderate Huntsman hasn't had much support in the polls in conservative South Carolina -- which holds its primary this coming Saturday -- his decision to pull out could provide a critical extra cushion of votes for Romney, who is facing stiff conservative competition there from Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
Romney's campaign -- already bolstered by a huge campaign war chest and a wave of momentum after wins in Iowa and New Hampshire -- is hoping for a possible knockout blow if the former Massachusetts governor finishes first in the Palmetto State. South Carolina has picked the winner of every GOP presidential nomination fight since 1980.
"Governor Huntsman did not want to stand in the way of the candidate best prepared to beat Barack Obama and turn our economy around. That's Mitt Romney," the official said.
Despite his rep, I think Huntsman was actually to the right of Romney, at least the Romney who actually was governor. He's also more consistent. I think what hurt Hunstman was three things. The biggest one was the ambassador job. That shouldn't have hurt him, but it did. It was a minor admin job which he was certainly qualified to hold. Another was Global warming. That was my major problem with Huntsman. He supported cap and trade, at least on the state level. The other one was his well known support for gay civil unions. I mildly oppose that preferring government to stay out of marriage altogether. That's not a dealbreaking issue for me.
I also he spent too much, but the same problems I had with Huntsman also applied to Romney, and even Newt to a degree. Because of those things, Huntsman never gained traction, in any of the states. A lot of the folks that would support him supported Romney instead. Romney was their guy last time.
I don't think this matters much for South Carolina, but it does help Romney long term. Many of the Huntsman supporters will probably support Romney now. Most of the "anyone but Romney" vote would have supported someone besides Huntsman anyway. This could give Romney a 2-3% bump in the states, but that might be all he needs. The big winner today with this announcement is Romney.