Although Washington may be closed for business today, political news continues unhinged. Fox News reported last night that Jon Huntsman, the candidate notorious for being viewed as more moderate than Mitt Romney, has dropped out of the Republican primary race. Overall, Huntsman’s poll numbers have been dismal—he received 1 percent in Iowa and averaged 2-3 percent in almost every poll I’ve seen since the start of the election cycle. However, his exit from the race is shocking, considering his unexpected third place finish in New Hampshire and endorsement by the Boston Globe, one of the largest newspapers in the country.
One doesn’t need to look far to predict Romney’s front-runner status for the foreseeable future. He won a nail-biting race in Iowa and a landslide in New Hampshire. Not many expect South Carolina’s race to be different. While Rick Santorum has garnered influential evangelical support, Insider Advantage polls Romney at 32 percent in South Carolina, a nine-point lead over second place Newt Gingrich. In addition, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, a Tea Party favorite in 2010, has been campaigning for Romney for some time. There is little evidence to predict that his ranking will change.
Huntsman’s exit should prove well for Romney. Because the two are Mormon and share seemingly “moderate” conservative values, one would expect the Romney camp to be the first recipient of Huntsman supporters. But today, despite their arguing on American values during the pre-New Hampshire debates, Huntsman endorsed Romney for president.
This development is surprising. The heated exchange during last weekend’s debates was a small part of a big rivalry between the two over the campaign trail. Huntsman has repeatedly criticized Romney for lacking a “core.” “When you combine a record of uncertainty—running first as a senator as a liberal; governor as a moderate; then as a conservative for the presidency, people wonder where your core is,” Huntsman said in an interview with Joe Scarborough on MSNBC. He also suggested that trust would be an issue for Romney’s campaign. Donald Trump expressed his surprise by the endorsement on Fox News, stating that Huntsman had been “very nasty” to Romney. Trump was also surprised that Huntsman did not leave sooner after repeatedly scoring 1-3 percent in the polls.
With Huntsman’s support and one less candidate to share votes with, Romney seems assured to win in South Carolina, where he is backed by the state’s governor and has lead in the polls for some time. Additionally, a new Fox News poll shows Romney and Barack Obama in a virtual tie. It is clear that Romney is all but the nominee, and should be confident that he will be the one to run against the president in November.