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Jon Huntman to quit presidential race, endorse Mitt Romney

Jon M. Huntsman, a former governor of Utah who had hoped to parlay a centrist approach to foreign and economic policies into a winning strategy for the Republican nomination for the presidency, has decided to withdraw from the race, his campaign manager told The Associated Press last night.

Huntsman, who placed third in the New Hampshire primary last week after devoting almost his entire candidacy to an effort to win in the Granite State, is expected to endorse Mitt Romney for the nomination in a news conference in South Carolina later this morning. In Romney, Huntsman sees a candidate who has the best chance for defeating President Obama in November, according to news reports.

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For Huntsman, it has been a long, difficult path in the primaries. He announced his intention to run for president early this summer after resigning as ambassador to China under the Obama administration.

A fiscal conservative, Huntsman struggled to disentangle his ties to the Democratic president and to present himself as an independent voice on both tax and foreign policies.

Considered a social moderate, Huntsman bypassed campaigning in Iowa to focus his attention on New Hampshire. Huntsman, 51, held around 170 public events in New Hampshire, where he preached a streamlined tax code and fiscal restraint and won the endorsement of The Boston Globe. But he came in third in the primary there last week, after Romney and Ron Paul.

Huntsman, whose family owns a chemical company, already put more than $2 million of his own money into the presidential campaign.

Huntsman drew support from independents and moderates – the same group of voters that were also drawn to Romney. He had difficulty attracting support from conservatives, with positions that included support for civil unions for gay couples and belief in the science of climate change. Some were skeptical of Huntsman’s service to the Democratic president.

Huntsman’s campaign stressed the need for tax reform, regulatory reform, and energy independence. He talked about creating a manufacturing renaissance. He frequently stressed his record as Utah governor. A former ambassador to China and Singapore, he focused his foreign policy on economics over military might, and he called for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Huntsman also spoke about the lack of trust people have in government, vowing to support term limits in Congress.

In South Carolina, he had won the endorsement of a leading newspaper, The State. Yet, with a skeleton organization in the Palmetto State, he struggled to gain traction as the debate shifted to Romney and his record at Bain Capital, along with pitches from both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to religious and social conservatives, a group Huntsman has struggled to engage.

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