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Huntsman to drop out of presidential race, endorse Romney


Jon Huntsman will drop his presidential bid and endorse Mitt Romney, according to campaign sources.

"He doesn't want to stand in the way of the person who is going to be the nominee," a campaign source said.

Huntsman will make the announcement during a speech in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Monday at 11 a.m. ET, spokesman Tim Miller said. Huntsman, who earlier Sunday was endorsed by The State (the largest newspaper in South Carolina), had vowed to stay in the race despite his third-place showing in New Hampshire. He boasted in a speech on primary night Tuesday that he had a "ticket to ride" and that it was "on to South Carolina."

The move to endorse Romney is especially ironic, considering Huntsman up until yesterday, was saying nobody wants a "coronation." Huntsman also delivered his most searing line of the campaign -- at Romney's expense -- in a debate just before the New Hampshire primary. Romney criticized Huntsman's service as ambassador to China under President Obama to which Huntsman replied, "This nation is divided because of attitudes like that."

NBC's Chris Donovan reminds that Huntsman also was harshly critical of Romney on Meet the Press, questioning his consistency. "When there is a question about whether you're running for the White House or running for the waffle house, you've got a real problem with the American people," Huntsman charged. 

He went on to add that he believed because of Romney's inconsistency, he was "unelectable."

"I think when you're on too many sides of the issues of the day, when you don't have that core, when there's that element of trust out there," Huntsman said, "I think that becomes a problem, and I think it makes you unelectable against Barack Obama."

He later went on to say he'd support Romney if he becomes the nominee, "but I think the electability issue is a, is a very real one."

Political reality apparently set in for the former Utah governor. He did not poll well in the Palmetto State, never rising above low single digits. The path for him was not at all clear after New Hampshire, and he acknowledged that his expectations in South Carolina were "very low."

"Gov. Huntsman is proud of the race he ran and his message of restoring trust in Washington," another campaign source said. "But he did not want to stand in the way of the candidate best prepared to beat Barack Obama and turn the economy around. That's Mitt Romney."

Brian Snyder / Reuters

Businessman, governor and ambassador: a look at Jon Huntsman's public life.

Huntsman decided "days ago" -- shortly after the New Hampshire primary -- that he would not go on with his campaign, according to a high-level source close to the campaign.

Senior staffers in South Carolina say the campaign struggled to get Huntsman to campaign in the state following his third-place finish in New Hampshire. They say the campaign had no infrastructure in the state and suffered from lack of resources and communication issues. Not even signs had arrived yet from New Hampshire. Many volunteers had no work assigned to them. 

One senior South Carolina staffer said he was disappointed with what he had been promised by the campaign and was already mulling returning to his previous job.

Senior supporters and consultants were continually frustrated, they said, by a lack of fundraising to support what the national campaign originally promised -- a full-fledged campaign. Senior sources also noted that many fundraisers questions why Huntsman chose not to fund his campaign with his personal wealth. They were frustrated also that more resources were not devoted earlier.

NBC's Garrett Haake reports that Huntsman's campaign advance director was told the candidate was dropping out by a Romney staffer, who had been told by an NBC reporter minutes earlier. According to that Romney staffer, Huntsman campaign staff were at the debate walk through (there's a debate tomorrow night) asking "real" questions and were seemingly fully involved.

Much, if not all, of the Romney campaign team was also unaware -- despite Huntsman endorsing him tomorrow. The campaign's political director, for example, found out via a news alert.

Several members of the Huntsman advance team, who flew down just this morning, were unaware of the decision. Huntsman's regional political director found of the decision via an NBC reporters' Tweet.

Huntsman's YouTube channel -- which used to have lots of anti-Romney videos on it -- has been scrubbed already and none of the anti-Romney videos are there any longer. Also taken down are www.scaredmittless2012.com and 10Kbet.com -- both were created by the Huntsman campaign.