- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. planned to withdraw from the Republican presidential race on Monday, winnowing the field down to Mitt Romney and four others who are trying to stake their claim to be the conservative alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.

Mr. Huntsman’s decision comes on the heels of his third-place showing in New Hampshire’s primary last week and ahead of what was shaping up to be a disappointing fifth- or sixth-place finish in South Carolina next weekend.

The Associated Press, which first reported Mr. Huntsman’s decision on Sunday night, cited campaign staff as saying that the former Utah governor will endorse Mr. Romney.

Mr. Huntsman had not been receiving much support in polls, but his move does clear out room on Mr. Romney’s left flank, which could matter in upcoming states such as Florida, which holds a primary Jan. 31, and Nevada, whose caucuses are in early February.

The decision capped a weekend that saw Mr. Romney continue to fend off attacks over his time at Bain Capital, and saw the candidates step up their attacks on each other in television, radio and Internet advertising.

Ironically, Mr. Huntsman had just received the endorsement of the State newspaper in Columbia on Sunday morning. Mr. Romney, meanwhile, collected endorsements from the Greenville News and Charlotte, N.C., Observer.

Mr. Huntsman becomes the fourth major candidate to drop out of the race after former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty last summer, businessman Herman Cain in December and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota after Iowa’s caucuses.

On Sunday, the rest of the field debated how long they can continue if one of them doesn’t top Mr. Romney here in South Carolina.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in particular, will face pressure to drop out of the race should he not do well in Saturday’s primary.

Speaking to CNN’s “State of the Union,” he said it was his “intention” to continue to Florida. But on ABC’s “This Week” program, he said he’ll have to re-evaluate after South Carolina.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he would “have to reassess” his campaign if he loses the state, but he predicted a victory.

“Frankly, I think we’re going to win here, and I think we’re increasingly consolidating,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Adding to the jumble, former Sen. Rick Santorum is still leaving open the chance that Iowa’s caucus results could change.

Mr. Romney appeared to have posted an eight-vote victory over Mr. Santorum on Jan. 3, but one worker said the final results for his precinct had given Mr. Romney too many votes there, and if those were subtracted Mr. Santorum would have triumphed.

The Republican Party in Iowa, which runs the caucuses, is still going over the final results and will make an announcement this week.

“Iowa’s not quite done yet. They’re still certifying that election result,” Mr. Santorum said while campaigning in South Carolina. “Don’t count us out in Iowa yet.”

In Myrtle Beach, S.C., Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was endorsed by South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis, which the Paul campaign touted as a “game-changing” event because of the lawmaker’s fiscal conservative credentials in the state.

Mr. Paul, who was absent from the state for most of the end of the week, also announced he collected more than $1 million in online donations Saturday in a “moneybomb” fundraising effort.