Florida Backers Disappointed, Accept Huntsman Withdrawal

By: Jim Turner | Posted: January 16, 2012 12:25 PM
Jon Huntsman

Jon Huntsman | Credit: Gage Skidmore - Flickr

Florida Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, says she is disappointed the candidate she backed for the GOP nomination has suspended his campaign, but added that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman made the right decision Monday.

“I believe he made the right decision to get out of the race as he was unable to gain the traction necessary to continue,” Dockery, one of Huntsman’s handful of Florida legislative backers, stated in an email Monday.

“Huntsman supporters were attracted to his successful conservative record, his common-sense approach to issues, his diplomatic temperament, his foreign policy experience and his desire to change the tone of the political discourse.”

Huntsman, speaking at a news conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Monday, formally announced the end of his presidential campaign.

Huntsman, with a “Country First” campaign theme, endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for Republican Party nomination.

“I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama,” Huntsman said. “Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is Governor Mitt Romney.”

Huntsman, who was polling in sixth place with between 5 percent and 6 percent in South Carolina, also criticized the overall tone of the campaign that he said has turned toxic.

“This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks, not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time in our nation’s history,” said Huntsman, who was among those taking shots at Romney as recently as a week ago.

Huntsman called on each campaign to stop its attacks on each other and focus on growing the economy through conservative ideas.

“Only bold ideas will get us to where we need to be,” he said.

“Let’s invest our time and resources in building trust with the American people and uniting them around a common purpose.”

He also took shots at Obama for fueling class warfare instead of building trust in the American system of government.

“Three years ago the president promised to unite the American people, yet his desire to engage in class warfare for political gain has left us more divided than ever,” Huntsman said. “This divisiveness is corrosive and does not advance America’s interests.”

Huntsman, who brought an impressive resume into the campaign, didn't connect with voters.

However, he picked up some traction in the New Hampshire campaign's eleventh hour when The Boston Globe endorsed him in the race. The Globe's editorial shocked many in New England, stomping ground of GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.

He followed up the Globe’s endorsement on Sunday when The State, one of South Carolina's most influential newspapers, also recommended Huntsman.

Still, Huntsman invested heavily in the New Hampshire primary only to finish third with 16.9 percent, lagging behind Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

Among Huntsman’s supporters in Florida were state Sens. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Longwood Mayor Joe Durso.

Dockery noted she didn’t plan to make another endorsement, but agreed with Huntsman’s comments about the nature of political campaigns.

“Campaigns have become very toxic and are decided more by money than by a candidate's record, character or ideas,” she stated. “Unfortunately, governing has become equally as uncivil and that is the real shame in our political system.”

While he had originally based his campaign in Florida, Huntsman shifted his focus to the New Hampshire primary. He pulled out of the Sunshine State to base his campaign in the Granite State. Huntsman ignored Iowa and paid for it, finishing at 0.6 percent in the Hawkeye State, near the bottom of the pack.

The father of seven children, Huntsman won two terms as governor of Utah. When his second term ended, Huntsman -- who nominated Sarah Palin for vice president during the 2008 campaign -- was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as ambassador to China.

This was not Huntsman’s first stint in foreign policy in regard to Asia. He worked there in the 1980s and served as a deputy assistant secretary of commerce with his focus on trade and commerce with East Asian and Pacific nations in George H.W. Bush's administration. Huntsman also served as ambassador to Singapore under the first President Bush and would later work in George W. Bush’s administration as deputy U.S. trade representative.

Huntsman’s departure leaves five of the nine names submitted last October by the Republican Party of Florida for the Jan. 31 primary in Florida.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., businessman Herman Cain, and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson have already halted their campaigns.

Still active are Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

Fox News political analyst Karl Rove, deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, on Monday predicted Santorum will bow out after the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

Huntsman invested heavily in the New Hampshire primary only to finish third with 16.9 percent, lagging behind Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. But 
unlike others in the campaign, Huntsman -- criticized by some as Romney-lite -- never mounted a serious challenge to Romney.

Still, Huntsman’s exit further limits the choices of those who have sought an alternative to the Massachusetts governor who continues to be questioned over his conservative credentials based upon his track record from his time running the New England commonwealth.

“Huntsman's exit puts even more pressure on the anti-Romney vote to coalesce behind a single candidate,” said University of South Florida political science professor and political analyst Susan MacManus. “It also allows voters who are closely watching and influenced by the debates to focus more intently on those remaining 'not Romney' candidates.”

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

Comments (1)

6:34PM JAN 16TH 2012
Too bad Huntsman and Romney are a poor examples of the Mormonism. The Mormon's hold the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence as "Inspired by God" and play an important roll in their faith. Huntsman and Romney seem to miss those connections. Romney is as Mormon as he is Conservative. Does it make him a MINO?

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