The hunt is over for now. Mitt must capitalise...

Jon Huntsman is due to drop out of the Republican race and endorse Mitt Romney

Step this way, Jon...
On 16 January 2012 11:24

Well, I did predict it - except on this occasion it appears my emotional connection got the best of me. Last week, I predicted that there should be another drop out of the Republican field before the South Carolina primary.

I said Gingrich or Santorum, using the rationale that a split social conservative vote would hand the race to Romney. The reality made just as much sense - Jon Huntsman has dropped out to block a Santorum or Ron Paul win in the Palmetto State.

National media outlets are now confirming my suspicions, that the social conservatives are concerned that a split vote between Santorum and Gingrich will effectively hand Mitt Romney the Republican nomination.

After South Carolina, it may fall to Ron Paul to be the only challenger to Romney, despite the millions poured into the Gingrich Super PAC to slam the former Massachusetts Governor. 

This of course was never a Gingrich to win tactic, but probably accounted for much of Rick Santorum's recent surge, and it'll play right into Ron Paul's hands going into Florida and beyond. Rick Perry is apparently still in the race... no one cares.

The votes that Huntsman would have likely garnered in South Carolina were enough to worry the Romney camp, hence the outright endorsement which is due to take place today. Even though the former Utah Governor didn't run in Iowa, he stole some of Romney's moderate conservative votes and left Mitt with just an 8 vote win earlier this month. That was a close one.

With South Carolina far more socially conservative, the GOP establishment (gasp) couldn't risk Huntsman knocking Mitt into second place. As I highlighted last week, since 1980 South Carolina has determined who will carry the Republican nomination for non-incumbents. A frightening statistic for all the superstitious campaigners (most are).

I said on BBC News last week that Romney would win South Carolina and I'm sticking by that. The Huntsman drop out will boost morale for his campaign and shift a few  votes over to Romney. That being said - this is do or die time for Mitt. Gingrich, Santorum and Paul will have the knives out. Mitt needs to develop an even thicker skin than usual for the next few weeks.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator and tweets at @RaheemJKassam

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