Just as he entered the 2012 presidential sweepstakes, Newt Gingrich is exiting the race slowly, messily, on tiptoe.
On Wednesday, in a speech to the Gaston County GOP in North Carolina, the former House speaker said it was “pretty clear” that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. Privately, Gingrich campaign officials told reporters that Mr. Gingrich would suspend his campaign on May 1 and probably endorse Mr. Romney then, too.
“You have to at some point be honest with what’s happening in the real world, as opposed to what you’d like to have happened,” said Gingrich, whose campaign is $4.3 million in debt. “Governor Romney had a very good day yesterday.”
Indeed, Romney won all five primaries Tuesday with healthy majorities. Gingrich’s best state was Delaware, where he came in second with 27 percent of the vote.
“I think obviously that I would be a better candidate, but the objective fact is the voters didn’t think that,” Gingrich said. “And I also think it’s very, very important that we be unified.”
But Gingrich didn’t drop out. And apparently he doesn’t plan to suspend his campaign until next week. He said he would continue to campaign in North Carolina this week “as a citizen.” The state holds its primary on May 8.
The fact is that Gingrich’s campaign had effectively run its course weeks ago, and he admitted as much. In an interview on "Fox News Sunday" on April 8, Gingrich said Romney was “far and away the most likely Republican nominee.”
“If I end up not being the nominee, I have already talked to chairman Reince Priebus at the Republican National Committee,” Gingrich said. “I’d want to work this fall to help defeat [President] Obama any way I could. Whatever the team thinks I can do to be helpful, I would do.”
But dropping out wasn’t one of those things. Gingrich said he would keep campaigning to influence the Republican platform on issues such as energy independence. He also clearly enjoyed the attention of fans who told him to keep campaigning.
That week, in Delaware and North Carolina, he said, people would “walk up and say, ‘I'm glad you're here. I'm glad you're talking about ideas. Please stay in.’ ”
The long Gingrich goodbye has been reminiscent of his disorganized entrance into the race, which took place amid embarrassing miscues by staff and friends. Over the course of his campaign, he lost countless aides in staff shake-ups, some of whom had been with him a long time. Others went on to serve in top positions in the unsuccessful campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Gingrich did have some high points on his presidential journey. He topped the polls for a time and won two primaries, South Carolina and his home state of Georgia. He also provided some of the more memorable moments of the primary season. When his second ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, gave an interview to ABC News, saying that Gingrich had requested an open marriage, he lit into CNN debate moderator John King for bringing that up in the opening question.
Gingrich was famously combative in the debates, attacking the premise of questions as often, it seemed, as he actually answered them. But he also gets credit for his skillful, substantive responses and for helping Romney improve as a debater, Republicans say.
Gingrich became famous for some of his more out-there ideas, such as a dream of establishing colonies on the moon and his love of zoo animals. He raised eyebrows early in the race when it came out that he had not one but two revolving lines of credit at high-end jeweler Tiffany & Co., both for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Gingrich’s effort also famously benefited from the largess of Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who, along with his wife, donated at least $10 million to an outside group that pounded Romney as a heartless “vulture capitalist.”
Now Gingrich is at the end of the trail, and his future is uncertain. He gave up a lucrative gig on Fox News to run for president. His health-care think tank, the Center for Health Transformation, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier this month.
On April 20, the Federal Election Commission released reports that showed the Gingrich campaign owed $4.3 million in debts and obligations at the end of March, including $271,775 he owed himself for travel, according to Bloomberg News.