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Huntsman's decision to quit presidential race 'came from his gut'

Published: Monday, Jan. 16 2012 6:06 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, accompanied by his wife Mary Kaye Huntsman, announces he is ending his campaign, Monday, Jan. 16, 2012, in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. told supporters he had a "ticket to ride" after last week's New Hampshire presidential primary, but he already knew his race was coming to an end.

"He's a realist," Jeff Wright, Huntsman's Salt Lake-based national finance chairman, told the Deseret News shortly after Huntsman announced Monday he was dropping his bid for the White House. "This came from his gut."

Just days before South Carolina's Saturday primary, Huntsman endorsed GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, the other Republican in the race with ties to Utah as the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and a fellow Mormon.

Because Huntsman has lagged so far behind the rest of the GOP field in most polls it was not clear his endorsement would have any significant impact on Romney in Saturday's primary election.

Huntsman's decision to exit followed a disappointing third-place finish in New Hampshire's Jan. 10 GOP primary, behind Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul despite a last-minute surge of support.

Since Huntsman had focused all of his campaign resources on New Hampshire, even skipping the first test of presidential candidates, the Iowa caucuses earlier this month, few believed he could continue.

"Huntsman put everything into New Hampshire. It was the proverbial 'Hail Mary" and it didn’t' make it to the end zone," said Kirk Jowers, a Romney supporter who advised Huntsman as governor. "So it was inevitable he was going to drop out."

Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Huntsman likely took time after New Hampshire's election "to make sure everyone was at peace with abandoning the fight."

Huntsman broke the news to Wright and other key advisers Sunday evening and his decision quickly become public. Some tried to talk Huntsman into staying in the race, but not Wright.

Wright said he, too, is enough of a realist to realize the race was over.

"But I also think this was the right decision for him to make. I think he is leaving the race at a very good time in an honorable manner," Wright said. "Which is who he is. He's a very honorable person."

Although political observers speculate the Huntsman campaign was out of money, Wright said, had the resources to continue.

"After New Hampshire, he had a spike in fundraising," Wright said, acknowledging that the average contribution of $120 wasn't enough to pay for the media campaign needed in South Carolina.

He said the campaign took in "hundreds of thousands of dollars" online. But had Huntsman finished in the No. 2 spot in New Hampshire as his campaign had hoped, "we would have been talking millions of dollars," Wright said.

Huntsman put at least $2 million of his own money into his campaign and his father, billionaire industrialist and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., is a big contributor to the so-called "super political action committee" supporting Huntsman.

Huntsman Sr. was by his son's side at Monday's announcement, along with Huntsman's wife and four of his five daughters. The now-former candidate said the presidential race had turned toxic and was not helping the GOP's efforts to re-take the White House.

"This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks," he said, also accusing President Barack Obama, the Democratic leader who named him U.S. ambassador to China, of engaging in "class warfare."

Wright said Huntsman "was very concerned that South Carolina was becoming a negative quagmire and he did not want to be part of that. I think that had a great influence on his decision, that it's just gotten beyond nasty."

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