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

The strategy reached what many perceived to be a comedic tipping point in Florida, where Gingrich unveiled an ambitious plan for space exploration. During a speech along Florida's central coast, where thousands of jobs rely on the space industry, Gingrich vowed to build a colony on the moon by his second term, and promised to make exploration a priority. His opponents pounced, claiming Gingrich's priorities were misguided.

Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who bested Romney in Iowa, was steadily on his way to replacing Gingrich as the "conservative alternative" in the race.

After Super Tuesday, it became clear that Gingrich would not be able to achieve the delegates needed to win the nomination. Despite calls for him to leave the race, Gingrich soldiered on, and briefly helped leave open the possibility of a contested Republican convention.

Soon, the calls for Gingrich to step down grew louder and his debt burden grew larger. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who had bankrolled super PAC ads supporting him, announced he would stop writing checks.

Gingrich, who perhaps did for a short time--as his former spokesman dramatically put it last year--rise "out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia," shrunk back out of the spotlight as Romney accepted the title of Republican nominee. Gingrich refused to step down, hanging on for several weeks after Santorum ended his candidacy.

Finally, after a five-state primary in April, Gingrich made the decision to concede to Romney.

On Wednesday, Gingrich said he and his wife will maintain their "focus on a series of key issues and try to find way to move forward" on matters like energy, "American exceptionalism and American history," balancing the budget, brain science and space exploration.

"I am cheerfully going to take back up the issue of space," said Gingrich, who was mocked by some for his proposal to establish a permanent American base on the moon by 2020.

"I thought, frankly, in my role providing material for 'Saturday Night Live,' it was helpful," he said. More seriously, he added, "If we are going to be the leading country in the world," the United States must also be the leading country in space exploration.

This story was first published at 5:27 a.m. ET and was last updated at 3:48 p.m. ET.

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