A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Monday, Jan. 16:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
THE HUNT IS OVER: Jon Huntsman drops out of the GOP presidential race and offers his support to Mitt Romney, despite their differences. Huntsman, a former Utah governor, had banked everything on a strong finish in New Hampshire's primary last week. He ended up in third place, without enough momentum to propel his candidacy forward in South Carolina. He faced a likely defeat there on Saturday, too.
BUT THE QUESTION REMAINS: Will voters who want a more conservative candidate than Romney unite behind Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry? Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, was the consensus choice over the weekend of a group of national Christian political activists who met to rally conservatives. But it appears the conservative vote in South Carolina may be split as the two Ricks and one Newt continue in the race. That likely will allow Romney, who was ahead in the state polls there, to check off a third straight win on his road to the GOP nomination.
AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE: Huntsman's decision leaves five candidates in the race: Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and Ron Paul. All were meeting Monday night in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in the first of two nationally televised debates before Saturday's primary. Fox News Channel is the sponsor. The second debate was set for Thursday in Charleston, with CNN as the host.
PARTING SHOT: Huntsman blasts the tone of a GOP race he says had "degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks" unworthy of the American people. He called on the candidates left standing to halt the attacks and talk instead about how their conservative ideas will create jobs, reduce the nation's debt and provide a brighter future for all. But what are the odds? Negative ads work. That's why campaigns use them. Just ask Gingrich. He led in the polls in Iowa before a Romney-aligned group sullied him with a deluge of negative ads. Gingrich finished fourth. Now, the same pro-Romney group is flooding the South Carolina airwaves with nearly $1 million in advertising, all of it against Santorum.
IN HUNTSMAN'S WORDS:
On Mitt Romney, then and now:
THEN: "I can get elected. The issue is going to be trust in the 2012 election cycle. People want to know your core. They want to know you have a consistent, predictable core. I haven't been on three sides of all the issues. I ran a state that was No. 1 in job creation as opposed to No. 47. I've lived overseas four times. ... The kind of experience I bring is unlike anyone else in the race." _ Jan. 3, 2012, answering a reporter while campaigning in Lebanon, N.H.
NOW: "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." _ Jan. 16, 2012, announcing his endorsement of Romney.
IN THEIR WORDS:
_ "Moderates are backing moderates. No surprise there." _ Santorum, on Huntsman endorsing Romney.
_ "I salute Jon Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye. Jon ran a spirited campaign based on unity, not division, and love of country. I appreciate his friendship and support." _ Romney.
_ "With Gov. Huntsman dropping out, we are one step closer to a bold Reagan conservative winning the GOP nomination." _ Gingrich.
_ "We entered this race just six months ago with the longest of long shots." _ Huntsman.