Huntsman quits 'toxic' race for White House
Published 17/01/2012 | 05:00
JON Huntsman became the latest candidate to drop out of the Republican presidential nomination race yesterday and immediately called for an end to the "toxic political forum" that was harming the party.
As he conceded defeat, he pledged his support for the frontrunner Mitt Romney, who he said was best placed to beat President Barack Obama. Issuing a plea for party unity, the former Utah governor and Mr Obama's envoy in China said the infighting that had gripped the Republican race in the past few weeks was wrecking trust in the political process.
He said the contest had "degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people", and asked candidates to "stop attacking each other and talk about jobs".
Speaking in South Carolina, where the third contest in the primary season will be held on Saturday, he said: "I believe it's now time for our party to unite behind the candidate who is the best equipped to beat President Obama.
"Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is Governor Romney."
Mr Romney paid tribute to his departed rival. "I salute Jon Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye. Jon ran a spirited campaign based on unity not division, and love of his country. I appreciate his friendship and support," he said in a statement.
Only two months ago, Mr Huntsman said that Mr Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, was "unelectable" because he lacked "core" and was "on too many sides of the issues of the day".
But after seeing Mr Romney win Iowa by just eight votes, then New Hampshire by a comfortable margin, he has apparently changed his mind.
Standing as a moderate conservative in a southern state where 60pc of Republican voters describe themselves as evangelical, Mr Huntsman (51) struggled to gain any "bounce" from coming third in more liberal New Hampshire last week.
Some in the party also did not trust Mr Huntsman for not only working as Mr Obama's ambassador to China for two years but for calling him a "remarkable leader" in a leaked diplomatic cable.
The key issue after South Carolina is whether or not a single conservative challenger emerges from Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, who split the evangelical vote.
The fifth candidate still in the race is the libertarian Ron Paul. (© Daily Telegraph, London)