Newt Gingrich: How Long Can Bruised Candidate Hang On?

PHOTO: Newt Gingrich gives a thumbs up sign to supporters after speaking to the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce at the Vestavia Hills Country Club March 13, 2012 in Birmingham, Alabama.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Newt Gingrich is battered and his fundraisers are bruised, but the former House speaker is not giving up.

With a fifth as many delegates as GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, 12 percent support nationally in the latest Gallup poll and a "very tight" budget to run on for another four months, Gingrich's campaign seems to be hanging on by a thread. He laid off a third of his staff and replaced his campaign manager this week.

But the Gingrich campaign has been here before. In the 10 months since he officially launched his presidential bid, he has trudged on through a mass departure of his top aides, a deluge of attack ads and an embarrassingly large Tiffany's credit line.

Gingrich claims his now slimmed-down operation will sail on until the GOP convention in August. Can he make it?

Here's a look at the ups and downs Gingrich has weathered thus far on the campaign trail.

May: Tiffany's Trouble

It took less than a week for Gingrich's campaign to hit its first major hiccup. Just six days after announcing his candidacy last May, reports emerged that the man running as a fiscal conservative had a half-a-million dollar credit line at Tiffany & Co.

Financial disclosures showed Gingrich and his wife Callista had racked up between $250,000 and $500,000 in debt at the high-end jewelry store in 2005 and 2006.

Gingrich claimed he had paid off every penny, saying on CBS' "Face the Nation" that he is "very frugal."

"If the U.S. government was as debt-free as I am, everybody in America would be celebrating," he said.

But the Tiffany's story did not disappear. In June, new disclosure filings showed there had been a second line of credit at Tiffany's that ranged from $500,000 to $1 million.

The second report confirmed that Gingrich had closed both lines of credit.

June: Staff Exodus

Gingrich, the first major candidate to declare his GOP bid, looked as if he would also be the first to drop out of the race, after 16 of his top staffers quit en masse at the beginning of June.

Citing a "fundamental difference of opinion about the direction of the campaign," Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler resigned, along with campaign manager Rob Johnson and a handful of senior strategists and Gingrich's Iowa and South Carolina consultants.

The staff exodus came the day after Gingrich and his wife returned from a two-week cruise through the Greek Isles.

Tyler said one of the main sticking points between the candidate and his staff was about "whether Newt's schedule would allow him to spend enough time in the states he needs to win."

Despite his tattered leadership team, Gingrich vowed to "begin anew."

"The fact is campaigns go up and down," he said in Atlanta. "I'm not running to talk about the nuances of the campaign. I am running because we have enormous problems."

December: Debate Domination

As the primary revved into high-gear leading up to the first votes in Iowa, Gingrich found his groove: debating. November and December were debate season, with Republican candidates meeting on stage nine times in two months.

In the last month of 2011, Gingrich surged from fifth place in the Iowa polls to first. That rocket-like surge gave Gingrich some swagger.

"I'm going to be the nominee," he confidently told ABC's Jake Tapper.

At the time the former House speaker was riding high in the polls with 35 percent of likely voters picking him as their preferred candidate, according to Gallup's daily tracking. But Gingrich, it appeared in retrospect, had hit his peak early.

Early January: Ads Attack

Gingrich's rise to front-runner status was met by the brick wall of super PAC spending. The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future inundated the airwaves with ads attacking Gingrich on everything from working for the mortgage lender Freddie Mac to being fined for ethics violations as House speaker.

In Iowa alone, 45 percent of all the TV ads aired attacked Gingrich, who vowed to keep his campaign focused on the positive and not run negative ads.

By the time the Iowa caucuses came on Jan. 3, Gingrich's support had dropped to 16 percent. He finished fourth in Iowa, a state polls showed he would win just two weeks earlier.

"If I could have done anything different, I would have pulled the plug on Romney's PAC," Gingrich said. "I probably should have responded faster and more aggressive than that."

Late January: Southern Surge

Like a cat with nine lives, Gingrich crawled back. He received a vote of confidence from Sarah Palin and scored the endorsement of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a one-time contender who dropped out of the race.

Days after another fourth-place finish in New Hampshire, Gingrich's poll numbers began to climb and within 10 days he was back above 30 percent support.

He rode that renewed momentum straight into South Carolina where even a bombshell interview with Gingrich's second ex-wife, in which she told ABC News Gingrich had asked her for an open marriage (he has now been married three times), couldn't derail his momentum.

Gingrich won the South Carolina primary, bouyed by the large number of Christian Evangelicals who turned out.

But it has been downhill since then.

February: Floundering in Florida

Heading into the all-important Florida primary, the Romney attack machine ramped up again.

In the week before the Florida vote, Romney and his allies spent nearly $14 million on negative ads. But his opponents spent more. A whopping 92 percent of all the ads aired in Florida were negative and the majority were directed against Gingrich.

In the 10 days between his South Carolina victory and the Florida primary Gingrich's support fell 6 points while Romney's surged 9 points nationwide, Gallup tracking showed.

The former speaker finished a distant second in Florida. Since then, he has rarely had more than 15 percent national support.

While he won his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday, he finished dead last in 13 of the 27 states that have voted since the Florida primary.

March: To the Zoo!

At this point in the race, Gingrich seems to be campaigning not to win, but to make it harder for Mitt Romney to win.

While he is still slogging along the campaign trail, Gingrich's road to Tampa has taken a few detours, two in the past month alone to zoos.

"I started my career wanting to be a zoo director, so I have a passion for dropping by zoos whenever I can," Gingrich told students at Salisbury University in Maryland Tuesday after spending the afternoon at the Salisbury Zoo.

Gingrich did not give a speech or hold a campaign rally at the zoo, but he did offer his thoughts to his Twitter followers.

"Salisbury zoo is a very nice local zoo-cotton topped tamarins are fascinating," one tweet said.

"Just heard red wolves howling in response to local hospital siren-four wolves make quite a noise-fascinating-red wolves very endangered," read another.

Two weeks ago Gingrich made a pit stop at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, and in February a campaign staffer live-streamed the candidate's visit to the San Diego Zoo.

"This is a terrific new exhibit at the downtown San Diego Zoo," Gingrich said in the live-stream video as an elephant chowed down on a trunk full of leaves behind him. "Since I do love zoos, I'm glad to be here."

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