Jon Huntsman appears on US national television
Jon Huntsman appears on US national television

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is one step closer to securing the U.S. Republican Party nomination for president after news broke late Sunday that former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman plans to drop out of the race and endorse his rival.

The news came hours after the southern state of South Carolina's largest newspaper, The State, endorsed Huntsman's candidacy.

Officials with Huntsman's campaign told media outlets the formal announcement will come late Monday morning.  A campaign spokesman said Huntsman "did not want to stand in the way" of Romney - a fellow Mormon who is considered a moderate conservative - on his way to challenge the Democratic incumbent, President Barack Obama.

Huntsman had decided against competing in the first state to vote - Iowa in the Midwest - and instead focus most of his campaign resources on the second contest in the northeastern state of New Hampshire.  However, he placed third in that primary, behind Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

It is now a five-way race among Romney, Paul, conservative Rick Santorum, former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry for the Republican nomination.

Romney heads into South Carolina's January 21 primary, not only with momentum from his two first-place finishes, but also with the endorsement of the state's Republican governor, Nikki Haley, a favorite of the conservative, grassroots Tea Party movement.

The candidates have a televised debate Monday night.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.