- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich met secretly with GOP rival Mitt Romney on Saturday, according to a source close to the campaign, but the former House speaker says he has made no deal to end his bid for the GOP nomination.

Mr. Gingrich, responding to questions from The Washington Times, did not deny the meeting, but explicitly said he hasn’t been offered a position in a potential Romney administration in exchange for dropping out.

Nor, he said, is there a deal to have Mr. Romney’s big donors help retire Mr. Gingrich’s campaign debt of more than $1 million.

“There is no agreement of any kind, and I plan to go all the way to Tampa,” Mr. Gingrich said, referring to the August GOP presi[JUMP]dential nominating convention in Florida.

Mr. Gingrich announced Tuesday that he was “downsizing the campaign, not suspending it. I am in Maryland, North Carolina and Delaware next week. We have events already scheduled in Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Missouri.”

According to a source close to the Gingrich campaign, the two GOP rivals met early on the day of the Louisiana primary at Mr. Romney’s hotel in New Orleans.

On Tuesday, the former House speaker signaled that he is toning down the anti-Romney rhetoric he has used on the campaign circuit, telling reporters while campaigning in Annapolis that, “Obviously I will support [Mitt Romney] and will be delighted to do anything I can to help defeat Barack Obama.”

But Wednesday, the former congressman from Georgia struck a defiant note again. “Romney has to earn this. It’s not going to be given to him,” he told Washington-based radio station WTOP.

If the cash-strapped Gingrich campaign goes forward on a bare-bones budget, the candidate is likely to limp into Tampa with little more than his wife, Callista, and his daughters as campaign staffers.

As part of the downsizing, Mr. Gingrich no longer will use a campaign plane or the two campaign buses with Gingrich logos emblazoned on the sides.

The campaign also will do without a paid advance team to check out and choose stump destinations and no longer will have a full-time production team to set up those sites, said Gingrich communications director Joe DeSantis.

Mr. DeSantis, emphasizing that he was offering “estimates,” said “approximately 20 full-time staff” remain after the cash-strapped campaign cut a third of its staff Tuesday.

That was a drop from 35 full-time staffers, Mr. DeSantis said, and down from 45 full-timers at the height of the Gingrich campaign.

According to the latest Associated Press delegate count, Mr. Romney, still unbeloved by some core GOP voters and activists, has 568 delegates, Mr. Santorum has 273, and Mr. Gingrich, with only two primary state victories to his credit, has 135. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, with no primary or caucus wins, has 50.

Mr. Gingrich, who was credited in 1989 with leading Republican efforts to overthrow Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright, is considered one of the architects of the modern Republican Party. But his vow to shake up the Republican race with a deadlocked convention in Tampa has some in the party questioning the former House speaker’s motives.

Mr. Gingrich would need a plurality of delegates from each of five different states just to qualify for a place on the first ballot of a deadlocked convention at which no candidate had the requisite 1,144 delegates for nomination. In 13 states and territories, delegates are not bound to vote for any candidate, even on the first ballot.

If the fight moved to a second ballot, anybody could walk in from the outside to become an instant competitor, even if he or she had not participated in a single GOP nomination primary.

So GOP stars such as New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie and Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio could stride into the convention hall and theoretically wind up as the party’s nominee to face President Obama on Nov. 6.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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