ARLINGTON, Va. — Newt Gingrich brought his presidential campaign to an anticlimactic close Wednesday before several dozen family members, aides and supporters at a suburban Washington hotel.
Technically, Gingrich “suspended” his candidacy, allowing him to turn his attention to retiring a campaign debt of more than $3 million. The announcement wasn’t news, however, since he had said last month that he would do so, after running out of excuses to continue his campaign. His second and last primary victory was almost two months ago, in his former home state of Georgia, and he has finished far back in most of the GOP voter tests.
“Today I’m suspending the campaign but suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship” said Gingrich. He and his wife, Callista, “owe it to America” to remain active politically, he said.
Gingrich said he would work to elect Republicans at all levels this fall.
“As to the presidency, 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.
It was unclear why the former House speaker chose to wait until Wednesday to deliver his remarks, nor did he explain. The campaign billed his swan song as a press conference but he took no questions after delivering a 22-minute statement, largely a rehash of his stump speech.
There had been speculation that Gingrich hoped to go out by appearing with Romney, the party’s presumptive nominee, whom Gingrich has tacitly endorsed. Romney campaigned in a nearby northern Virginia town on Wednesday, but his schedulers didn’t make time for his onetime foe.
Gingrich choked up once, briefly, at the outset, when he repeated a familiar line about his two grandchildren, Maggie and Robert, being his best debate coaches. The youngsters stood alongside Gingrich on a small stage with other family members.
The 68-year-old Republican called his campaign “a truly wild ride,” adding that “I could never have predicted either the low points or the high points.”
In a rare self-deprecating aside, he referred to his campaign vision of a human colony on the moon, remarking that his wife, who nodded as he spoke, had pointed out to him “approximately 219 times, give or take three, that ‘moon colony’ was probably not my most clever comment in this campaign.
“I thought, frankly, that in my role of providing material for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it was helpful,” said Gingrich. He went on to say that “what I called for is beginning to happen,” a reference to a privately financed recent proposal to lasso an asteroid and mine it for minerals in outer space.
On the day he left the race, Gingrich was running third with 137 delegates, according to The Associated Press count, more than 1,000 short of the total needed to win the nomination. Rep. Ron Paul, the only remaining challenger to Romney, has 80 delegates but is continuing to compete in the primaries and caucuses, which end in late June.
(c)2012 Tribune Co.