ARLINGTON, Va. — Newt Gingrich’s turbulent bid for the Republican presidential nomination officially 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.
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 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 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 campaign trail as the race intensified.
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.