Huntsman, considered a moderate among the Republican candidates, failed to connect with conservatives [Reuters]

Jon Huntsman has suspended his campaign from the race for the Republican nomination in the upcoming US presidential election.

Huntsman, a former ambassador to China and governor of Utah, announced the decision in South Carolina on Monday, ahead of this week's primary election, adding that he was endorsing current front-runner Mitt Romney. 

"Today, I am suspending my campaign for the presidency. I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat [President] Barack Obama," he told supporters.

"Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is governor Mitt Romney."

Despite devoting most of his campaign resources to the state of South Carolina while his opponents focused on Iowa, Huntsman placed third in last week's New Hampshire primary with 17 per cent of the vote, subsequently conceding that expectations for his performance in South Carolina would be "very low".

A poll last week showed Huntsman with only four per cent of the vote in South Carolina. That figure put him behind even comedian and South Carolina native, Stephen Colbert, who had announced a bid for the president of the "United States of South Carolina" last week.

Unable to connect

Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, said Huntsman's decision did not come as much of a surprise.

"He never really was able to connect with the brand of conservatism that is needed to really rally and get the conservative members, the base of the Republican party, behind him," she said.

"He supported many ideas that did not connect with a lot of the base - for example he was in support of civil unions for gay couples, he was in support of evolution as well as the science behind global warming.

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"That was just not something that many Republican voters rallied behind."

Word of Huntsman's withdrawal, which emerged on Sunday, came on the same day the Columbia State, South Carolina's largest newspaper, endorsed him for president.

The endorsement in a state with more conservative voters, for whom the moderate Republican has been a hard sell, said there were "two sensible, experienced grown-ups in the race", Romney and Huntsman.

The endorsement went on to paint Huntsman as "more principled, [with] a far more impressive resume [and] a significantly more important message".

A businessman, diplomat, governor, and veteran of four presidential administrations with expertise on China and foreign trade, Huntsman's resume seemed to suggest a serious contender for the Republican candidacy, but his stance as a business executive who would rise above partisan politics proved less palatable to Republican voters.

Huntsman's term as US ambassador to China under Obama also left some Republican voters wary of his employment under what many of them consider a failed presidency.

Huntsman eschewed a bitter campaign pitting candidates against one another, saying "I don't think you need to run down somebody's reputation in order to run for the office of president," but did at times take jabs at his rivals, most notably in a pre-debate tweet: "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.''

Huntsman was routinely at the bottom of national polls, barely registering at one or two per cent.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies