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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

Dave Woodard, a political science professor and pollster at Clemson University in South Carolina, said negative TV commercials are dominating the local airwaves. Most are aimed at Romney as the frontrunner.

"It's bad. Believe me, it's bad," Woodard said. "What's so astonishing is there's so much of it. In the afternoon, around the news hours, we're not selling cars and furniture over here. It's all politics."

Woodard said Huntsman's endorsement might not help Romney much. He noted that only a half-dozen out of hundreds of South Carolina residents polled overnight favored Huntsman.

"No great loss, I think, in terms of outcome," Woodard said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who is campaigning for Romney in South Carolina, said the endorsement is "a very nice gesture. It will help the party " by making Romney appear even more electable.

Chaffetz, who ran Huntsman's 2004 campaign for governor and served as his chief of staff, is one of many Utah politicians who have backed Romney. A few, including Gov. Gary Herbert, who was Huntsman's lieutenant governor, chose to avoid making an endorsement in the race.

Huntsman, though, was a popular governor, easily winning reelection to a second term in 2008. He stepped down less than a year later to become ambassador to China, a post he held until resigning last spring to return to the United States and launch his presidential bid.

Last fall, he purchased a $1.8 million condo in downtown Salt Lake City's new City Creek residential, entertainment and shopping complex, intended to be his legal residence for voting purposes. But the family also has a much larger home in Washington, D.C.

Wright said the Huntsman would leave South Carolina after meeting with staff, volunteers and donors Monday for an undisclosed location outside of Utah.

"He was very optimistic about his future. I think he has a good perspective on where he is and where he wants to go," Wright said, declining to be more specific. "He's young and has a bright future."

His bid has been viewed as a warm-up to another run in 2016 if Obama is re-elected.  But Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, said he's not in a good position to run again.

"Huntsman didn't have that big victory," Scala said, that would allow him to claim support from a significant segment of GOP voters.

Plus, he said, there will be plenty of new faces four years from now, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was urged to run this time.

"If Romney loses, there's a lot of talent coming up the ranks on the Republican side," Scala said. "Chris Christie has a lot more star power than Jon Huntsman."

State GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said there are options in Utah this election year for Huntsman, including a possible challenge to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Wright, who said he was proud of the race Huntsman ran, wasn't aware of any interest on Huntsman's part in jumping back into Utah politics.

Still, he said, "anything's possible when it comes to politics. I don't ever rule anything out."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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