Newt Gingrich ended his run for US president yesterday after dazzling in televised debates but slumping to defeat in dozens of Republican primaries under attack from rivals who portrayed him as the consummate Washington insider.
The former US House of Representatives speaker, the face of the Republican Party in the mid-1990s, badly trailed front-runner Mitt Romney in polls and his campaign piled up a debt of $4.3 million.
Gingrich announced his departure from the White House race in a long statement to the media at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia outside the capital that included references to his many grandiose ideas like the establishment of a US colony on the moon.
He fell short of endorsing his former rival Romney but said voters had a clear choice in November's general election between Democratic President Barack Obama and the former Massachusetts governor.
"I am asked sometimes - is Mitt Romney conservative enough? And my answer is simple: compared to Barack Obama?" 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."
Gingrich, who had scaled back his campaigning for weeks after cutting staff, stood on a small stage with his wife Callista and other family by his side as he described his year-long presidential bid as "truly a wild ride."
"I could never have predicted either the low points or the high points. It was all sort of amazing and astonishing," Gingrich said.
He briefly led the Republican pack before the Iowa caucuses on January 3 but fell victim to a new force in US politics: the independent "Super PACs" or political action committees that have no limits on how much money they can raise or spend in support of candidates.
Although Gingrich had the support of one Super PAC, a pro-Romney group spent millions in negative ads attacking Gingrich, which was the start of his campaign's demise.
The former candidate must now work on paying off his debt. He was in talks with the Republican National Committee to figure out how to get some money. Romney's camp is not expected to directly help Gingrich pay it off but may introduce his team to donors who could help him in that effort.
"We have offered to be helpful," a Romney official said.