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(Updates with Huntsman standing in polls beginning in second paragraph.)
Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Jon Huntsman Jr. will drop out of the Republican presidential race tomorrow and endorse Mitt Romney, a campaign official said.
Huntsman, a former Utah governor who served as ambassador to China for President Barack Obama, struggled financially throughout the primary contest and was running last in an average of three statewide polls. He didn’t compete in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and finished third on Jan. 10 in New Hampshire, the contest on which he had staked his campaign.
His decision was made on the eve of a presidential debate in Myrtle Beach and on the same day that the Columbia-based newspaper, the State, endorsed him for South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary.
The move also comes as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are asking social conservatives to unite behind one of them as an alternative to Romney.
A campaign official who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement, confirmed Huntsman’s plans.
“With Governor Huntsman dropping out, we are one step closer to a bold Reagan conservative winning the GOP nomination,” R.C. Hammond, a Gingrich spokesman, said in a statement,
Huntsman’s candidacy was framed around a more centrist message than his opponents as he sought to attract independent voters and to compete in swing states in a general election. While opposed to gay marriage, Huntsman does support civil unions between people of the same sex.
His message proved to be out of sync with a party base animated by calls for cutting taxes and government spending and in search of a candidate capable of building a campaign machine and message strong enough to defeat Obama, Huntsman’s last boss.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, won in New Hampshire, following his eight-vote margin of victory in Iowa over former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
As of Sept. 30, the last records available, Huntsman reported raising $4.5 million -- including a $2.25 million personal loan to his campaign -- and having $3 million in debts.
He ran no television advertisements before the Iowa caucuses, saving all his fire for New Hampshire. In the Granite State, Huntsman’s campaign ran only about $20,000 in commercials on network stations while an outside group supporting his candidacy, Our Destiny PAC, spent $1.2 million on commercials.
In South Carolina, the Our Destiny committee has run only about $4,000 in commercials on network stations while his campaign hasn’t aired any ads, according to data from New York- based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a company that tracks advertising.
Huntsman was a no-show for a Jan. 13 forum in Duncan, South Carolina, with Gingrich and Santorum.
--With assistance from Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington. Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Jim Rubin.
Margaret Talev in Columbia, South Carolina, at firstname.lastname@example.org Catherine Dodge in Washington at email@example.com
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