Vowing to stay involved in America’s political conversation, an at-times-emotional Newt Gingrich closed the curtain Wednesday on an up-and-down Republican presidential bid that saw the former House speaker re-establish himself on the national stage, but rack up millions in campaign debt.
Mr. Gingrich, though, stopped short of offering a clear endorsement of presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, instead delivering a lukewarm embrace of the former Massachusetts governor toward the tail end of his 23-minute speech to supporters gathered in a hotel ballroom in Arlington, across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital.
“I’m asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative, and my answer is simple: compared with Barack Obama?” Mr. Gingrich said. “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.”
Mr. Gingrich said that the presidency is just one of the electoral prizes up for grabs in the November election, where control of Congress, governors’ mansions and state legislatures also will be on the line.
“The presidency matters, but so do all the other offices of self-governing. If you are truly going to have a wave of change in America, that wave has to occur in many, many places simultaneously,” Mr. Gingrich said, urging conservatives to stay involved at every level of politics.
“The election just starts the dance; it doesn’t just end it,” he said. “So every conservative should be ready to work everyday beyond this election.”
The tepid endorsement of Mr. Romney follows a rugged campaign season, where the Georgia Republican unloaded a series of attacks against Mr. Romney, casting the former Massachusetts governor as an unreliable conservative and the pick of the GOP establishment.
“As a man who wants to run for president of the United States who can’t be honest with the American people, why should we expect him to level about anything if he’s president?” Mr. Gingrich says in the ad’s footage, taken from a Fox News Channel interview.
Mr. Gingrich proved to be his own worst enemy at times during the bloody nomination battle. He was haunted by his turbulent marital history and for the erratic leadership style that some of his ex-colleagues said he exhibited on Capitol Hill after leading the 1994 “Republican Revolution” that gave the GOP control of the House for the first time in 40 years.
The 68-year-old, though, also showed a unique ability to breathe life into his flagging campaign after it appeared to be dead in the water.
His success was in part driven by his ability to whip crowds into a fervor with his combative debate performances, where he trained heavy fire at Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney and perhaps his favorite target, the news media.
The approach helped his cash-strapped campaign win loads of free media and allowed him to emerge as Mr. Romney’s No. 1 foe in November and then again in late January after he won a landslide victory in the South Carolina primary.
He would go on to score another victory in Georgia, the state he represented in Congress for decades, but his success ended there — and on Wednesday, he exited the race millions of dollars in debt.
Standing alongside his wife, Callista, and other family members on Wednesday, Mr. Gingrich poked fun at his vision for space exploration and rattled off his accomplishments over the decades he has spent in public office.