Matt Rourke, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman descends stairs during an event at Virginia's on King restaurant, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012, in Charleston, S.C. Huntsman will withdraw Monday, Jan. 16 from the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Campaign officials tell The Associated Press Huntsman will endorse Mitt Romney at an event in South Carolina on Monday morning.

Utah doesn't often generate political leaders who become serious contenders for a presidential nomination. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., became that in the current charge for the Republican nomination, adding significant substance to the race and attracting much favorable attention. His decision this week to drop out, while perhaps inevitable given his low level of support in South Carolina, left him having acquitted himself, and the state of Utah, well.

This race has featured its share of candidates whose antics and odd statements inspired jokes on late night television and derision among political observers. Not so Huntsman, whose foreign service experience and solid economic plan added a sense of gravity to the field of aspirants. He won endorsements from the Boston Globe and The State in South Carolina, major accolades treasured by anyone competing for the nomination. His candidacy also inspired favorable profile stories in major publications, highlighting the service to his church and his country. Utahns should be proud of his efforts.

In addition, Huntsman left on a high note, giving a farewell speech that was a clarion call for greater civility and focus within the Republican Party. The race for the nomination has in recent weeks taken on a dark tone, with negative ads and personal attacks that have led many to question whether the party can unite behind its eventual nominee. Huntsman at times was not above making his own attacks on front-runner Mitt Romney, who he now endorses, but his comments on civility were spot on.

Huntsman said the personal attacks are "not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time in our nation's history." The candidates should instead "talk directly to the American people" about their ideas.

The challenge, of course, is to do so without trying to elevate one's self by destroying the reputation of one's opponents. Unfair personal attacks, however, do little more than sully the candidate making them while devaluing the serious nature of the problems that ought to be front-and-center in this election. This is true even if the negative tactics succeed, which too often is the case.

Unfortunately, a debate in South Carolina later Monday was an escalation of that bitter, negative tone.

When it comes to providing serious solutions to problems, Huntsman was an early leader in this race. His economic plan, titled "Time to compete," was unveiled last September, before any other candidate presented a plan. It was, as we said at the time, concrete and bold, calling for tax simplification, abolishing the Alternative Minimum Tax and eliminating deductions and credits in exchange for lower personal income tax rates.

He proposed regulatory reform that included repealing the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley and reigning in over-reaching bureaucracies such as the National Labor Relations Board and the Environmental Protection Agency. He had a strong free-trade agenda that demonstrated an understanding of market economics — something lacking in many of today's candidates and office holders.

Other than a strong third-place showing in New Hampshire, Huntsman's campaign never gained the level of support necessary to vie for the nomination. However, from the beginning his candidacy was something to be taken seriously. His contribution to public service, we hope, has not ended.