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Huntsman wins key SC newspaper endorsement

CHARLESTON, SC -- Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman won the endorsement of South Carolina's largest newspaper, The State, on Sunday morning. The announcement comes six days before the Palmetto State primary as Huntsman attempts to quickly gain last- minute traction after spending very little time in the state. Huntsman finished a distant third in the New Hampshire primary after campaigning there for nearly six months straight.

 This is the second time Huntsman has been endorsed by a major newspaper with just days to go before an early state primary this cycle. Shortly before the New Hampshire primary, the Boston Globe also backed the former ambassador to China. Like the Globe, The State praises both Huntsman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney but stops short of endorsing the front-runner. 

"There are actually two sensible, experienced grownups," The State editorial said, giving a nod to front-runner Romney. "And while Mr. Romney is far more appealing than any of the other choices, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is more principled, has a far more impressive resume and offers a significantly more important message." 

The State, which endorsed Barack Obama and John McCain in the 2008 primary and McCain in that year's general election, said Huntsman stands "heads and shoulders above the field on foreign policy," praised his economic recovery plan and called his terms as Utah governor demonstrative of a "true conservative" record.

Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean discuss the endorsement of Jon Huntsman by The State newspaper in South Carolina.

The paper also highlighted Huntsman's decision to accept a post as Obama's ambassador to China as a strength. 

"He was a popular and successful governor in an extremely conservative state, well positioned to become a leading 2012 presidential contender, when Mr. Obama asked him to serve in arguably our nation’s most important diplomatic post, U.S. ambassador to China," the editorial said. "It could be political suicide, but he didn’t hesitate. As he told our editorial board, 'When the president asks you to serve, you serve.'" 

This endorsement will certainly boost Huntsman's struggling campaign here in South Carolina but could be a last-minute addition that comes too late. Although Huntsman has been long supported by big names in the state like former state attorney general Henry McMaster and sitting attorney general Alan Wilson, his organization here is struggling. With very little financial resources, a tiny and often frustrated staff, and low name recognition, Huntsman is working hard not to finish last. In the latest state-wide polls, Huntsman remains in the single digits, well behind Romney and Newt Gingrich. 

"I want to beat expectations like we did in New Hampshire. You have to beat expectations to keep moving on," a cautious Huntsman told reporters last night in Hilton Head. "Let's not draw too many conclusions until we get to the 24- or 48-hours mark."

Regardless, the campaign is "so pleased" that the paper chose Huntsman.  "This endorsement continues the momentum our campaign is carrying out of a late surge in New Hampshire," spokesman Tim Miller told NBC News on Sunday morning. 

At the same time, the candidate has long been generally skeptical of the actual impact of endorsements at the voting booth. 

"Endorsements, I think, are way overplayed in politics," Huntsman said last night, before receiving The State's backing. "It still comes down to individuals having to determine for themselves who are best able to lead this country."