According to an AP story by Philip Elliott and Kasie Hunt, Jon Huntsman is preparing to drop out of the GOP presidential sweepstakes and endorse Mitt Romney. Ironically, the same newspaper whose edition of the story I used (The State, based in the Columbia, SC area) spent its Sunday edition endorsing Huntsman in the South Carolina primary to be held next Saturday.
But the die for Huntsman was probably cast in New Hampshire, where he finished a distant third in a state where he was counting on competing with Mitt Romney for moderate Republican, independent, and disaffected Democratic votes. Finishing 22 points behind Romney and not expecting much of a showing in a much more conservative state (South Carolina) where Gov. Nikki Haley already placed herself squarely in the Romney camp, it was probably felt that Huntsman had no path to victory against his former boss, Barack Obama. So the two convention delegates Huntsman won can go ahead and support another candidate rather than be among the loneliest duo at the national Republican convention.
Yet while a number of conservative pundits believed Huntsman was a conservative actually attempting to broaden his appeal as a moderate, in reality Jon had two major problems I found: he supported the DREAM Act and believed in anthropogenic climate change. Neither of them are particularly conservative, and they overshadowed many of his good points with an electorate which has cried for a more conservative candidate than Mitt Romney.
Still, Romney will be Huntsman’s choice going forward, based on perceived electability – no surprise there. However, all that may do is bump Romney’s ceiling from 25 percent of the GOP electorate to 26 percent. Unfortunately, there’s not much Romney could gain from a Huntsman endorsement; meanwhile, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, who both exited the race with a broader base of support, haven’t stated publicly which competitor they will endorse. Those two endorsements could help sway the race to more of an extent than Huntsman’s commitment and it’s fairly likely they’ll be backing one of Romney’s opponents.
So we have the first qualifier on Maryland’s ballot to drop out of the running. Now the question is how many other “ghost” candidates will be on the docket we see April 3rd.