With Tepid Endorsement of Romney, Gingrich Formally Ends 2012 Presidential Campaign: A Moon Shot Comes to Earth at Last

Click image to see more photos. (Reuters/Benjamin Myers)
At an event that was long past his campaign's expiration date, Newt Gingrich ended his presidential campaign at a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Virginia.

"Today I am suspending the campaign, but suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship," Gingrich said. He thanked Rick Perry, Herman Cain and casino mogul and super PAC donor Sheldon Adelson, among others.

Gingrich said of South Carolina, where he won the Republican presidential primary, that he had "broken their tradition of always picking the nominee" and will always feel "slightly guilty" when traveling there.

At the end of his remarks, he tepidly endorsed the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. "I'm asked sometimes, Is Mitt Romney conservative?" Gingrich said. "And my answer is simple: Compared to Barack Obama? 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 history."

Although Romney has not yet reached the number of delegates needed to officially clinch the Republican presidential nomination, he became the presumptive nominee weeks ago, when former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum announced an end to his candidacy. Gingrich, however, stayed on course, while his campaign drowned in debt and his chances for the nomination dropped to near zero.

From when he first announced his intention to run in May 2011 through his triumphant win in the South Carolina primary,  Gingrich insisted that his mastery of conservative issues and his vast legislative experience was enough to beat President Barack Obama, but he failed to capture the support of the Republican primary electorate.

While Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota rode high in the summer of 2011, Gingrich was written off as a pretender. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry branded himself as the conservative alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Gingrich trudged on.

"There are lots of bunny rabbits who run through," Gingrich would later say. "I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time."

Gingrich began his presidential journey with some confusing reversals on major issues: In March 2011 it appeared the nation was about to engage in military action in Libya; Gingrich urged President Obama to get involved. But when the United States sent air support to Libya, Gingrich criticized the president, saying he would not have engaged.

In May of last year, Gingrich was a vocal opponent of Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's Medicare reform proposal, calling it "right wing social engineering." When he subsequently  apologized, he said  anyone who quoted his comments was acting dishonestly.

Gingrich was also criticized for his personal life in the campaign's early days:  Politico reported that Gingrich at one time personally owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the jewelry store Tiffany & Co (financial disclosure forms showed the debt had been paid in full.) He also briefly put the campaign on hiatus so he could take a luxury cruise in Greece with his third wife, Callista.

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