Newt Gingrich ended his self-described “wild ride” presidential bid yesterday and called presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who he previously dismissed as a “Massachusetts moderate,” a clear conservative alternative to President Barack Obama.
Gingrich aides had said last week he would be concluding his candidacy, and he has been in talks with Romney’s campaign about an endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor. While stopping short of such formal backing yesterday, he left no doubt he wants Romney to defeat Obama.
“I’m asked sometimes, ‘Is Mitt Romney conservative enough?’ And my answer’s simple: ‘Compared to Barack Obama?’” Gingrich said in a hotel ballroom in Arlington, Virginia. “You know, this is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical, leftist president in American history.”
The former U.S. House speaker also pledged to stay involved in energy, education, religious liberty and defense issues, among others.
“Today I’m suspending the campaign, but suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship,” Gingrich said.
Romney’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, which is in the process of melding its operations with the presumptive nominee’s, plan to aid Gingrich as he seeks to pay down the $4.3 million in campaign debt he reported in a March 31 Federal Election Commission filing.
Another one-time Romney rival, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, provided her backing today. In a statement, she praised Romney as “a man who will preserve the American dream of prosperity and liberty.”
Bachmann left the race after a sixth-place finish in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses that began the nomination voting.
Romney, 65, praised Gingrich, 68, following his exit speech, saying he “has brought creativity and intellectual vitality to American political life.”
“Although he long ago created an enduring place for himself in American history, I am confident that he will continue to make important contributions to our party and to the life of the nation,” Romney said in a statement.
After a brief campaign stop yesterday in Chantilly, Virginia, Romney met with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to discuss general election efforts.
Gingrich’s announcement concluded a quest filled with ups and downs. Many -- including some of his closest advisers -- thought it was dead last June, when aides staged a mass exodus from the cash-strapped operation amid complaints of dysfunction and lack of focus by the candidate.
Instead, Gingrich went on to surge in polls late last year, partly on the strength of fiery performances in debates in which he questioned Romney’s commitment to conservative causes and offered himself as the Republican best equipped to take on Obama.
A barrage of negative ads, largely from the Romney camp, caused him to fall back into the pack and he finished fourth in Iowa. Still, he picked up another wave of momentum that carried him to victory in South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary.
With new focus trained on his personal life, including the extramarital affair that ended his second marriage and gave rise to his third, his campaign fizzled when he ran far behind Romney in Florida’s Jan. 31 primary. The campaign in that state also featured an onslaught of ads targeting him that were financed by the super-Political Action Committee backing Romney.
Gingrich won only one other primary -- on March 6 in Georgia, which he represented in the House for 20 years -- as former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania emerged as Romney’s main challenger.
After poor showings in five primaries on April 24, including a second-place finish to Romney in Delaware, where Gingrich had staked his campaign, his aides the next day said he would suspend his bid.
In his exit speech, Gingrich alluded indirectly to the role of pro-Romney forces in pummeling him when he thanked Linda Upmeyer, an Iowa legislator, for backing him during the “wave of advertising” that blunted his efforts in that state.
He also singled out for thanks billionaire casino executive Sheldon Adelson and his wife, who gave $20 million to a super-PAC supporting Gingrich’s candidacy. And he expressed his appreciation to staff members who “stuck with me” through his rises and falls.
“I could never have predicted either the low points or the high points” of the campaign, he said.
The campaign’s roller coaster quality was fitting for Gingrich, whose career has been marked by spectacular successes followed by political implosions and rebirths. He helped engineer the 1994 political wave known as the Republican revolution that handed the party its first House majority in four decades. Four years later he relinquished the speakership and resigned his House seat amid discontent with him among House Republican members.
Gingrich cast himself as a visionary in seeking the presidency, and he continued to do so as he ended his campaign. He promoted his call for colonizing the moon -- a plan rivals in the Republican race scoffed at as a waste of federal funds.
Gingrich acknowledged yesterday that his wife, Callista, joined the critics of his moon proposal, as he made fun of it even while insisting on the validity of his arguments.
“My wife has pointed out to me approximately 219 times, give or take three, that ‘Moon colony’ was probably not my most clever comment in this campaign,” Gingrich said. “I thought, frankly, in my role as providing material for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it was helpful, but the underlying, key point is real: The fact is, if we’re going to be the leading country in the world, we have to be the leading country in space.”
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