ARLINGTON, Va — . Newt Gingrich’s turbulent bid for the Republican presidential nomination ended Wednesday, closing a raucous chapter in the GOP race that saw the outspoken, often outrageous former speaker of the House of Representatives tumble rapidly from front-runner to also-ran.
He suspended his campaign – effectively ending it – in a small meeting room at a hotel in this Washington suburb. He didn’t offer an endorsement of presumptive nominee Mitt Romney – that’s expected sometime in the future – but he came close.
“I’m asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative enough, and my answer is simple: Compared to Barack Obama? 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,” Gingrich said
Gingrich’s farewell to the race was full of his trademark bravado and sweeping rhetoric. For 22 minutes, he offered his views on a wide range of subjects, as well as another show of the Gingrich penchant for self-aggrandizement. With wife Callista by his side, he vowed they would “focus on a series of key issues and try and educate the country.” He listed spending, space, health care, the work ethic, China, Yemen and a host of other subjects.
He joked about his low points, recalling his January comment that a moon colony is in America’s future. He said that his wife reminded him at least 219 times “that ‘moon colony’ was probably not my most clever comment in the campaign. I thought frankly that in my role of providing material for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it was helpful.”
Gingrich ends his campaign with an estimated debt of at least $4 million. The Romney campaign has said it will help him pay it off. It could introduce him to donors, for instance. Romney issued a brief statement Wednesday but did not mention the debt.
“Newt Gingrich has brought creativity and intellectual vitality to American political life. During the course of this campaign, Newt demonstrated both eloquence and fearlessness in advancing conservative ideas,” Romney said. No plans for any joint Romney-Gingrich appearance have been announced.
Gingrich’s goodbye ends a wild ride that began about a year ago. In June, his campaign manager and much of his senior staff quit, after Gingrich and his wife took a cruise to the Greek Isles rather than hitting the intensifying campaign trail. Yet Gingrich kept fighting, relying largely on the goodwill of Republicans around the country who fondly remembered how he engineered the 1994 House victories that gave the GOP control of the chamber for the first time in 40 years.
But the very skills that made Gingrich so successful – his brashness and willingness to challenge age-old political maxims – also proved his undoing this year. He led many national GOP preference polls in December and January. But he was disorganized; for example, he failed to qualify for the primary ballot in Virginia, where he lives.
Gingrich thrived for awhile in January. His candor won him supporters in the seemingly endless string of Republican debates. But his ex-wife Marianne said Gingrich had offered her a choice of an open marriage or a divorce, and at a debate two days before South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary, CNN’s John King asked Gingrich about the report. The question, the candidate snarled, was “as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.” The audience applauded loudly, and Gingrich won the state’s primary.
But he couldn’t compete with Romney’s juggernaut, and in Florida, the next big test, Romney and his backers outspent Gingrich, notably on relentless attack ads. By early March, it was clear that Romney would be the Republican nominee, but Gingrich kept plugging away. He won his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday, March 6, but his effort to maintain any momentum in Illinois and Louisiana in late March failed dismally.
He continued to bash Romney as recently as last week, when he told a Charlotte, N.C., audience that Romney was “presumptuous” and “insulting” to voters in states that had not yet held primaries or caucuses. North Carolina holds its primary Tuesday.
Obama’s campaign released a video Wednesday of Gingrich’s barbs at Romney. He called the Romney campaign “very, very worrisome,” called Romney the most anti-immigrant candidate, and a liar.
Romney has 847 delegates to August’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., with 1,144 needed for the nomination. Gingrich has 137. Romney campaigned Wednesday in Chantilly, Va., just a few miles from the Hilton hotel ballroom where Gingrich appeared about four hours later.
Among other challengers, Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, plans to meet with Romney on Friday. Santorum left the race April 10. He has 259 delegates. He emerged as Romney’s strongest rival, winning 11 states and showing impressive appeal with evangelical Christian voters and diehard conservatives. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has not won a contest, remains in the race. He has 80 delegates.
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