Huntsman drops out of GOP race; Ron Paul surges in South Carolina

Ron Paul (Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP)
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman abandoned his attempt at the Republican Party’s nod on Monday, not just narrowing the number of candidates vying for the GOP nomination but potentially pushing the contest in favor of Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

The announcement from the Huntsman camp came early Monday, only days after the candidate took third place in the New Hampshire primary. While Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann was prompted to pull out of the race following dismal polling in Iowa, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry — who gathered substantially less votes that Huntsman — remain in the race.

Now unless the pack of three bringing up the rear in the race can see a resurgence of success on the road to the South Carolina primary, the path to the Republican Party nomination seems certain to be a two-man race between Romney and Paul. Given his continuing surge in support coupled with a surprise second place win in New Hampshire, positive polling down south and the ability to reclaim votes from the Huntsman fan base, Congressman Paul stands to capitalize on having his contender call it quits.

In the contest to offer the GOP an everyman’s alternative to millionaire Mitt Romney, Paul and Huntsman have gone head-to-head in recent weeks, especially after the two placed second and third in New Hampshire, respectively. While Paul has made it known that he is an unyielding libertarian thanks to a massive national campaign, Huntsman also subscribes to those ideologies and has managed to make his candidacy thrive thus far on the votes of those skeptic of Ron Paul, portrayed by the media as an unelectable, fringe candidate. Now with Huntsman out of the picture, however, libertarian-leaning voters will be apt to side with Congressman Paul, although officially Romney will be endorsed by the soon-to-be out-of-the-race candidate.

Depending on how voters formerly aligned with Huntsman chose to cast their voice in South Carolina, Congressman Paul could continue his streak of upsets and secure a victory in the upcoming primary.

At least two polls put out in recent days suggest that Paul’s support in South Carolina is only surging upwards, a trend that could be accelerated with Huntsman out of the picture. On Friday, American Research Group put Romney at first place with 29 percent of the votes and Paul close behind at 20 percent. In-between was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 25 percent of the votes, which comes as a shock to many after he barely claimed 9 percent of the audience days earlier in New Hampshire.

In an entirely different poll put out this weekend, Rasmussen Reports suggests that Paul has seen a surge in popularity in South Carolina in recent days, capturing five more percentage points than only a week earlier. At the same time, Rasmussen’s polling put Paul’s closest competition as Rick Santorum, who saw a drop of eight percentage points during the same span.

Following the second-place win in New Hampshire, Ron Paul spokesman Jesse Benton said, “When added to Paul’s top-tier showing in Iowa, it’s clear he is the sole Republican candidate who can take on and defeat both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.”

From South Carolina on Saturday night, even Fox News amplified that point.

During a forum hosted by Mike Huckabee in which the former GOP-contender himself asked questions to Republican candidates in front of a live audience, one member of the crowd was asked to toss a question to Mitt Romney. “How do you plan on getting us on board with you and convincing us that you and Obama aren’t just different sides of the same coin?” asked a young man during the event. Romney responded by switching to a cookie-cutter answer that harped on his experience with the private sector and by-and-large deflected from the actual question. When Fox asked the audience member if he was satisfied, he confronted Romney for skipping the question and said on air, “I’m more for Ron Paul after this, even though he’s not even here.”