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Gingrich Formally Ends Campaign, 'A Truly Wild Ride'
Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:06 am
What to say about Newt Gingrich that Newt Gingrich hasn't already said about Newt Gingrich?
Employing his admittedly "grandiose" ideas, Gingrich said all that he could to will his candidacy for president past low expectations. He arguably did, managing to resurrect his political career (at least temporarily), help focus the zeitgeist of conservative voters and even briefly wear the mantle of front-runner.
But Gingrich's cult of personality couldn't sustain his underfunded campaign or help him beat out former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — who himself conceded defeat nearly a month ago — as conservatives' preferred alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The former House speaker on Wednesday officially ended his bid for the Republican nomination.
"I never could have predicted either the low points or the high points," Gingrich said in announcing a suspension of his campaign, which he called "a truly wild ride."
Gingrich even indicated that he would work for the election of Romney, with whom he engaged in a sometimes brutal and personal primary campaign.
"This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan," he said in blasting President Obama. But Gingrich never offered a formal endorsement.
While Gingrich won South Carolina on Jan. 21 and his native Georgia on March 6, his dual losses to Santorum in the nearby Southern states of Alabama and Mississippi on March 13 ended his campaign's last claims to competitiveness.
Overall, Republicans voted in 42 primaries or caucuses while Gingrich was an active candidate; he won two states.
A Drawn-Out Exit
Gingrich had all but ended the campaign late in March, when he laid off a third of his staff and announced a streamlined if quixotic strategy aimed at denying Romney the 1,144 delegates needed for nomination at the Republican National Convention.
When Santorum left the race April 10, Gingrich tweeted: "It's now a two person race." But conventional wisdom held that Santorum's exit removed the final obstacle to Romney's nomination.
And on April 20, Federal Election Commission filings showed that the Gingrich campaign was more than $4 million in debt at the end of March.
Always A Long Shot
From the start, Republican primary voters had plenty of reasons to ignore Gingrich.
At 68, he'd been out of office for 14 years. His legacy as the famed architect of the Republican House takeover of 1994 seemed to be offset by his political and personal baggage: being outmaneuvered by President Bill Clinton during the government shutdown; his resignation under pressure as speaker in 1998; his extramarital affairs and three marriages; and, more recently, his centrist stances on immigration reform and climate change.
So Gingrich began his candidacy largely under the radar as the even-keeled, big-idea-wielding history professor he'd been before entering politics, and not the verbose, pugnacious flame-thrower he'd been at the peak of his powers.
Following the defection of his campaign staff last June, Gingrich steadily turned in strong debate performances and touted his vast experience working successfully with Democrats in Washington.
Unlikely Contender, Briefly
When Herman Cain bowed out of the race in early December, the "anybody but Romney" voters turned to Gingrich. A month before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, polls showed the former Georgia congressman at the top of the pack.
But that made Gingrich a target. Opponents forced him to defend his previous support of a health care overhaul, an effort to tie him to President Obama's 2010 law. They also attacked his opposition to deporting illegal immigrants who'd spent most of their lives in the U.S.
Then came reports that he was paid more than $1.6 million by Freddie Mac to advise the mortgage giant. That didn't sit well with Republicans who saw government-sponsored Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae as the causes of the financial meltdown.
The most damage was done by the pro-Romney superPAC Restore Our Future, which aired an ad in Iowa knitting together several of these damning examples, questioned Gingrich's record as House speaker and tied him to Democrats.
In the days before Iowa's Jan. 3 caucuses, the attacks hit their mark: Gingrich lacked the money to counter with ads that could bolster his defense, and he lacked the field organization to hold his support in place.
Gingrich finished a distant fourth in the Iowa caucuses, with 13.3 percent. Still reeling, he fared no better in the New Hampshire primary a week later.
The Old Newt Returns
Romney's attacks incensed Gingrich. He decided to turn up the heat but insisted he wouldn't go negative, claiming that he only wanted an "honest debate" about Romney's record. But, in effect, Gingrich had removed the gloves.
In a debate on NBC's Meet the Press, he accused Romney of "pious baloney" for saying he was not a career politician.
Gingrich later urged opponents Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to drop out to avoid splitting the conservative vote.
South Carolina — which voted third — filled Gingrich with confidence about his chances in the first Southern primary, one that had picked every eventual Republican nominee since 1980. South Carolina neighbors Georgia, which Gingrich represented in Congress, and the states share traits — large conservative, evangelical populations that appreciate bare-knuckled politics.
Gingrich homed in on Romney's claim of having created 100,000 jobs as the CEO of Bain Capital, a private equity firm. He accused Romney of gutting companies acquired by Bain and then laying off workers, hoping the tactic would resonate in a state with nearly 10 percent unemployment.
The pro-Gingrich superPAC Winning Our Future, funded by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, launched a $3.4 million advertising campaign to stop Romney that centered on a 28-minute documentary called King of Bain: When Mitt Romney Came To Town. The piece cast Romney as a corporate raider.
Then Romney gave Gingrich another opening by badly fumbling the question of whether he'd release his income tax returns. Gingrich pounced. He quickly released records showing his tax rate at 31 percent and tweaked Romney for having paid at a rate half as much.
Gingrich also turned in another strong debate performance, during which he unleashed his pugnacious style to the delight of the audience.
Riding a late surge, Gingrich solidly won the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary with 40 percent of the vote.
Benefactor Helps Keep Gingrich Afloat
It's virtually impossible to exaggerate the importance of Adelson for the Gingrich campaign, which was sputtering financially entering the Florida primary. That's when Adelson's wife, Miriam, donated $5 million to the pro-Gingrich superPAC, on top of the $5 million Adelson himself had already given. Ultimately, the couple gave $20 million to Winning Our Future. Gingrich thanked the Adelsons by name on Wednesday.
The superPAC made a $6 million ad buy in Florida, providing a jolt for Gingrich, who finished a distant second to Romney there on Jan. 31, but with a respectable 32 percent that allowed his campaign to continue.
But as Santorum's star began to rise, Gingrich's began to fade. By Super Tuesday on March 6, Gingrich had fallen to third behind Santorum in many national and state polls, and looked to his home state's primary to stage another turnaround.
Georgia's 76 delegates offered the biggest prize, and Gingrich was polling far out front. With another cash infusion from Adelson, Winning Our Future bought ads in several Super Tuesday states. The ads attacked Romney and promoted Gingrich's energy plan, which he had rolled out as a way to bring gasoline prices down to $2.50 a gallon.
Gingrich won Georgia handily but finished somewhat surprisingly third in two other states where he had expected to compete — Tennessee and Oklahoma, which went to Santorum. Gingrich finished well behind Romney and Santorum in every other Super Tuesday state.
Calls To End Campaign
Just as Gingrich had once called on Santorum to leave the race, the newly invigorated Santorum and his supporters began demanding that Gingrich drop out to allow conservatives to coalesce around a single candidate.
Gingrich shot back, calling Santorum a "big government, big labor earmark lover." But his campaign recognized the dire stakes and decided not to compete in the March 10 Kansas primary, instead focusing on the South, where Gingrich devoted his time to campaigning in Alabama and Mississippi (which he later lost) and Texas, which votes on May 29.
On April 25, a day after Romney swept five Northeast primaries by huge margins, a source close to the Gingrich campaign announced that he would leave the race.
Gingrich's official exit leaves only Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul as declared, active candidates.