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Gingrich drops US presidential bid

03 may 2012, 15:57
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich. ©AFP
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich. ©AFP
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich dropped his erratic campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination Wednesday, but pledged to remain in the public eye as an "active citizen", AFP reports.

"Today, I am suspending the campaign. Suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship," Gingrich said in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, with his wife Callista at his side.

His exit leaves only Ron Paul, an anti-tax and anti-war veteran Texas congressman, officially in the race against presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.

The 68-year-old Gingrich, best known for his polarizing term as leader of the House of Representatives in the 1990s, enjoyed brief spurts of success after a chaotic start to his presidential campaign.

But ultimately, Gingrich won just two nominating contests since the start of the state-by-state race in January -- in his home state of Georgia and in South Carolina -- and was a distant third in the fight to take on US President Barack Obama in November.

Former US senator Rick Santorum, who overtook Gingrich as the Republicans' favorite alternative to Romney, quit the race last month.

Paul remains a fringe candidate, consistently placing fourth in the primary season and with no chance of catching Romney, who has effectively embarked on a general election campaign against the Democratic incumbent.

Gingrich, deeply critical of Romney during the nomination race, said his old rival was better than Obama, who is seeking a second term -- but stopped short of offering his full endorsement.

"As to the presidency, I am asked sometimes -- is Mitt Romney conservative enough? My answer is simple -- compared to Barack Obama?" Gingrich said.

"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."

His spokesman R.C. Hammond told AFP a formal endorsement of Romney would come later, noting the date would depend on Romney's campaign.

Gingrich touted himself as the Republican Party's philosopher king, an intellectual with conservative roots going back to the Reagan years and a debater who could make mincemeat of Obama.

However, his multiple marriages and erratic record on policy positions made the Republican right mistrust him, while his love of public speaking tended to translate into lecturing, rather than inspiring speeches.

He provided one of the most memorable moments of the campaign in January when asked during a Republican debate in South Carolina about the bombshell allegation from his ex-wife that he had once requested an open marriage.

With his presidential hopes hanging in the balance, Gingrich struck out at the "destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media," saying it was "as close to despicable as anything I can imagine."

The stunning counter-attack, which played brilliantly to the innate conservative distrust of the liberal media, transformed the former House speaker from villain to hero and -- for a time -- recast the campaign.

Romney was generous toward his one-time rival, declaring that the departed Gingrich "demonstrated both eloquence and fearlessness in advancing conservative ideas."

Gingrich "long ago created an enduring place for himself in American history," Romney stated.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus lauded Gingrich as a "tireless leader in our party for decades."

Gingrich said he would work to advance Romney's battle against Obama and his party's bid to defeat Democrats in Congress.

"A Republican sweep this fall would revitalize America just as the Reagan sweep of 1980 revitalized America. We have done it before. We can do it again," Gingrich said.

"I always tell people that economic recovery will begin late on election night when people realize that Obama is gone. By the next morning, people will make new decisions about investing, hiring."

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