Nightly News   |  January 16, 2012

GOP presidential field shrinks by one

Jon Huntsman ended his campaign for president Monday on a cautionary note to fellow Republicans, urging them to abandon negative campaigning. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We turn our coverage now to presidential politics here in this country where the GOP field got smaller by one today. After a disappointing finish in New Hampshire and five days before the South Carolina primary , Jon Huntsman is tonight out of the race. Our report from NBC 's Peter Alexander .

PETER ALEXANDER reporting: In suspending his presidential bid today, Jon Huntsman derided what he called the toxic tone of the campaign.

Former Governor JON HUNTSMAN: This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people . Today I call on each campaign to cease attacking each other and instead talk directly to the American people .

ALEXANDER: But Huntsman himself has delivered some of the sharpest jabs against the candidate he's now endorsing, Mitt Romney .

Gov. HUNTSMAN: He's terribly out of touch with the reality that is playing out on the ground in this country.

ALEXANDER: The nasty campaigning began in Iowa , zeroing in on Newt Gingrich 's past, led by supporters of Romney and Ron Paul .

ALEXANDER: The barrage derailed Gingrich 's campaign, prompting the former House speaker to counterattack.

ALEXANDER: Ultimately escalating to this moment Saturday when Gingrich broke the events rules by taking aim at Romney once again.

Former Representative NEWT GINGRICH: Governor Romney ran saying he created 100,000 jobs in the private sector. And I -- let me just say...

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE: Mr. Speaker, we've said we will not allow any comment on the other candidates.

Mr. GINGRICH: Sure, OK. Well, I'm just trying to answer his question.

ALEXANDER: And now in Myrtle Beach , where the candidates have gathered for their 16th debate, the other campaigns have targeted Rick Santorum , who after the endorsement of evangelical Christian leaders in Texas insists he's the most viable conservative alternative to Romney .

ALEXANDER: Santorum will fire off his strongest ad yet in South Carolina beginning tomorrow.

ALEXANDER: Still Romney , the front-runner, remains in the driver's seat. Because conservative and anti- Romney support is still split among Ron Paul , Rick Perry and Santorum .

Former Senator RICK SANTORUM: Governor Romney 's lied about his record.

ALEXANDER: Perry became emotional today speaking about his wife Anita .

Governor RICK PERRY: If I just had to walk away from all of this, if she was walking with me, it'd all be OK.

ALEXANDER: Also today Rick Perry joined Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in calling on Mitt Romney to release his income tax returns, hoping that would help them portray Romney as rich and out of touch with ordinary Americans.

Brian: Peter Alexander in South Carolina for us tonight. Peter , thanks.