GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Jr., announced on Monday he was bringing to an end his bid for the White House, marking an end to the candidacy of one of the most pro-gay contenders in the Republican field.
In an address to supporters at Myrtle Beach, S.C., the former Utah governor announced he was exiting the race and throwing his support behind frontrunner Mitt Romney.
“I am suspending my campaign for the presidency,” Huntsman said. “I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama. Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is Gov. Mitt Romney.”
The former Massachusetts governor wasn’t in attendance during the event, but said via Twitter, “I salute Jon Huntsman & his wife Mary Kaye. He ran a campaign based on unity not division, & love of country. I appreciate his support.”
During his announcement, Huntsman criticized the “onslaught of negative and personal attacks” that he said comprised presidential campaigns, adding they distracted from the common Republican goal of seeking new leadership for the country.
“At its core the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause, and is just one of the many reasons why the American people have lost trust in their elected leaders,” Huntsman said.
Much attention has given to negative Super PAC ads in the presidential campaign, including ones that attack on Romney for his treatment of companies he purchased as head of Bain Capital.
Huntsman announced his departure after he finished third place in the New Hampshire primary and took 17 percent of the Republican vote. Many observers said a strong showing the libertarian-leaning state was crucial for the moderate candidate to continue his campaign.
Leaders of gay conservatives groups had different reactions to Huntsman’s exit, but had similar takes on the inclusiveness the candidate promoted during his presidential campaign.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of National Log Cabin Republican, said Huntsman supporters — including himself — are “sad to see such a solid pragmatic conservative” discontinue his presidential bid.
“Governor Huntsman noted that America is more divided than ever and that we are suffering an economic deficit and trust deficit,” Cooper said. “Log Cabin Republicans concur, and for our nation to move forward together with new leadership and unite, the Republican Party must first unite. A big tent approach is necessary for beating Obama. Politics is about addition.”
According to Cooper, whether he and other delegates supporting Huntsman will stay committed to the candidate is in question and will be determined by the Huntsman campaign, the D.C. Republican Committee and the D.C. Board of Elections.
“In short, no one really knows at this point,” Cooper said. “Each jurisdiction is different, so there may be places where Huntsman and other former contenders remain on primary ballots.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, responded to Huntsman’s exit by praising the candidate for throwing his support behind Romney.
“Jon Huntsman knows what most Republicans know — Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee because he’s the best candidate to take on Barack Obama in the general election,” LaSalvia said. “I’m glad to see Gov. Huntsman’s endorsement today because now is the time for all of us to unite behind Gov. Romney to defeat Obama in November.”
LaSalvia had endorsed Romney in op-ed piece published in the Daily Caller, citing economic and tax policy as reasons to support the candidate. The endorsement was a personal one, and not on behalf on GOProud.
Huntsman’s campaign was distinct among other Republican candidates because he took a tone and adopted positions that were more pro-gay than other GOP contenders seeking office.
The candidate had expressed support for civil unions and supported the general notion of moving toward equality. Unlike other candidates, Huntsman made no commitment to back a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country.
“I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to equality, and I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to reciprocal benefits,” Huntsman said during an August debate.
Still, there was limit to how far Huntsman would go. During a recent debate, Huntsman said he’s a “traditionalist” on marriage and thinks it “ought to be saved for one man and one woman.” Huntsman also said he thinks the Defense of Marriage Act “serves a useful purpose.”
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Huntsman’s exit from the demonstrates that moderates have no place within the Republican Party.
“Jon Huntsman was far too reasonable and thoughtful for the GOP base, but his worst transgression was having served as President Obama’s Ambassador to China,” Davis said. “The last gasp of bipartisanship has escaped the lips of the Republican Party today. His exit signals the final retreat of reason from the Republican presidential nomination contest.”
Davis also faulted Romney for not appearing to accept Huntsman’s endorsement in person during the former Utah governor’s speech.
“Though expected, his tepid and tenuous endorsement of Mitt Romney was underscored by Romney’s decision not to bother showing up to receive it,” Davis said. “It seems Romney treats his electoral endorsers about as well as he treated the companies he demolished at Bain.”