Gingrich Ends Campaign, Vows to Help Romney

By , USA Today - May 2, 2012

Updated 3:49 p.m. ET

Newt Gingrich formally ended his presidential bid today, vowing to work for the same big ideas he espoused in the campaign and to help Mitt Romney beat President Obama.

"This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan," he said. "This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical, leftist president in American history."

There is an open question about the impact Gingrich, Rick Santorum or any of the former 2012 GOP presidential contenders will have on Romney's quest to defeat Obama in November.

STORY:  Gingrich ready to support Romney

Some political analysts say Gingrich and Santorum, who exited the race after Easter but has yet to formally endorse Romney, will play important roles in Romney's quest for the White House.

"There are still fences to mend," Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader, a group of social conservatives, told USA TODAY. "The base is very inspired to defeat Barack Obama, but the base is very uninspired to elect Gov. Romney."

Romney is viewed cautiously by some conservatives because of his changing policy positions on issues such as abortion. Vander Plaats, who endorsed Santorum ahead of the Iowa caucuses, said Romney needs to "show respect to the base ... and deliver a consistent conservative message" in not only his policy statements but in his actions, such as his choice of a running mate.

Gingrich still has goodwill within the GOP for shepherding Republicans into power in the U.S. House in the mid-1990s after four decades in the minority. He has said he'd like to continue to bring "big ideas" to the table, something Gingrich has done whether he's been in office or running for president by selling books, giving speeches and writing newsletters.

In a statement released after Gingrich's news conference, Romney hailed his former rival for bringing "creativity and intellectual vitality to American political life" and showing "both eloquence and fearlessness in advancing conservative ideas."

Those who know Gingrich say his unsuccessful presidential campaign and the somewhat slow end to his candidacy won't hurt him in the long run.

"Newt Gingrich is one of the brightest people in the Republican Party and he's always been a little unorthodox in his approach to politics, but that's what makes him Newt Gingrich," said Gary Bauer, president of American Values, an organization of social conservatives. "He will continue to be an intellectual force in the Republican Party and the conservative movement."

John Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles, said Gingrich won't be playing a "traditional leadership role" in the Republican Party but can be useful to Romney.

"There are few other Republicans who can really excite a Republican audience the way Newt can, despite everything that has happened in the campaign," Pitney said. "He can really get Republican audiences on their feet and motivated, and that's an asset Romney can tap."

Pitney said Romney would do well by tapping some of Gingrich's ideas that could resonate in some quarters. One such idea: Gingrich's call for more brain research.

"Probably a majority of Americans knows someone with Alzheimer's disease," Pitney noted. "So it's a serious public policy issue, and Gingrich is saying some sensible things. It would be totally appropriate for Romney to raise the issue -- it won't alienate in the general election."

Santorum is set to meet with Romney on Friday.

His campaign strategist, John Brabender, said in a recent National Review interview that the former Pennsylvania senator wants to discuss with his former rival how Romney expects to "win over conservatives, tea-party voters, and blue-collar Republicans" and "make that part of the party not only part of his campaign, but part of his administration, should he win the election."

Catalina Camia leads the OnPolitics online community and has been at USA TODAY since 2005. She has been a reporter or editor covering politics and Congress for two decades, including stints at The Dallas Morning News and Congressional Quarterly. Follow her at @USATOnPolitics.

USA TODAY's Susan Davis (@DaviSusan), Jackie Kucinich (@jfkucinich) and Fredreka Schouten (@fschouten) also contribute to the OnPolitics blog.

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