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January 16, 2012

Huntsman withdraws, tosses support to Romney

Remaining candidates prime for tonight's debate

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. —  

Romney, rivals point toward first of 2 debates before pivotal South Carolina primary Saturday

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — The Republican presidential contenders on Monday campaigned their way into the first of two debates before a pivotal weekend primary in South Carolina, with Mitt Romney savoring an endorsement from the latest campaign dropout and his pursuers struggling to emerge as the race's principal conservative.

Hours before the debate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman withdrew from the race and announced his support for Romney despite their differences. He appealed to all remaining contenders to stop attacking one another.

There appeared little likelihood of that happening, either in the TV commercials, mail and other advertising blanketing the state ahead of Saturday's vote or, possibly, on the debate stage itself.

Romney wasn't present for Huntsman's endorsement, and Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Ron Paul all but ignored it as they sought to slow the front-runner's momentum in the race to pick a Republican rival to President Barack Obama this fall.

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