As former Ambassador and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman leaves the Republican race for president today, he takes with him the more moderate voice within the GOP primary. But in 2012, that moderation didn’t exactly amount to many votes.
Huntsman bet it all on New Hampshire, and a distant third place finish in a state he campaigned in for months (often by himself, as other candidates were focused on Iowa) was still only good for about 17 percent of the vote, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dominated with nearly forty percent. With Romney positioned as the most electable candidate and Huntsman as the more moderate option in the primary, now that Huntsman has dropped out and endorsed the former Gov. look for Huntsman’s support to be directly transferred over. Perhaps more importantly, it’s another sign that Romney is moving from his status as consensus choice to being touted as the actual nominee going forward.
In the last Public Policy Polling (D) numbers in South Carolina, Huntsman was polling at five percent after his finish in New Hampshire, a number repeated in a new other public polls of the state. He was the one candidate with almost no support among “somewhat conservative” and “very conservative” voters — he saw outsized support among moderate and “somewhat liberal” voters in the state. But since that is such a small portion of the GOP electorate, it didn’t add up to many actual votes. The problem for Huntsman was always Republican votes in the Republican primary, so his exit essentially adds to Romney’s total amongst the more leftward groups.
Romney has always had a mix of conservative and moderate support — while the “very conservative” group has been very fluid, often moving from candidate to candidate as the different surges occurred, Romney’s had a solid group of “somewhat conservative” voters and cross-section of the GOP middle. But what was true for Huntsman was true for Romney: With the number of moderates in the GOP rather small, Romney’s coalition has never given him an enormous lead — he’s clocked between 25 and 30 percent for most of the primary process.
But with Huntsman now gone, expect a bump of a few points to go along with the general trend that support is finally coalescing around Romney. The TPM Poll Average of the national race shows Romney opening up a huge lead after his wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, and we show a ten point lead for him in South Carolina.
While the actual support among Republican voters Huntsman can give Romney is small, his endorsement comes at an opportune time for the frontrunner — this is the moment when Romney is trying to complete the sale. If he continues to garner the support of Republicans of all types, his path to the nomination seems to be more secure, and the numbers seem to reflect that.
You can watch Huntsman’s exit speech below:
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.