Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich officially ended his tumultuous bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday, promising to continue on as an "active citizen," but offering only a lukewarm endorsement of the party's presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney.
Gingrich, appearing before supporters at an Arlington hotel, talked for more than 30 minutes and was 20 minutes into that speech before he mentioned Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who Gingrich claimed throughout the campaign was too moderate. Gingrich said Wednesday that Romney was conservative enough, at least compared with President Obama.
"This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan," Gingrich said, invoking the president to whom he often compared himself on the campaign trail. "This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical leftist president in American history."
Romney praised Gingrich and pledged to work with him in coming months.
"Although he long ago created an enduring place for himself in American history, I am confident that he will continue to make important contributions to our party and to the life of the nation," Romney said in a statement.
Gingrich, who announced his decision with his wife and family at his side, pledged to campaign this summer to help Republicans win not just the White house, but the Senate and statehouse races as well.
But questions remain about what role, if any, Gingrich will play in the Romney campaign, which has offered to make its donors available to Gingrich to help him pay off a nearly $4 million campaign debt.
Gingrich is expected to formally endorse Romney "in the coming weeks," his spokesman, R.C. Hammond, told The Washington Examiner.
And there are plans for Gingrich to help rally the vote for Romney, Hammond said.
"I've already been given my road orders," Hammond said. "Lock up your Democrats, Newt Gingrich will be on the trail this summer."
But some political strategists say it's unlikely Romney will feature Gingrich heavily given how harshly he criticized Romney during the primaries and his refusal to quit the race even when it was obvious Romney would win.
"I'd be surprised if it's a substantive role," Mississippi Republican strategist Andy Taggart told The Examiner.
The Obama campaign on Wednesday released an Internet ad featuring footage of Gingrich bashing Romney as a liar who once ran a company, Bain Capital, that "looted a company, leaving behind 1,700 unemployed people."
Gingrich angered many establishment Republicans by remaining in the race long after it was clear he had no way of winning the nomination. In March, Gingrich threatened to take the fight all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.
"Newt's late exit from the race is just another poorly executed decision on his part and his campaign for president will ultimately be known in history as one long list of bad decisions," New Hampshire Republican strategist Michael Dennehy told The Examiner.
But some believe Gingrich can help attract the kind of conservative voters Romney has failed to excite, particularly in Southern states.
"When Gingrich is on his game, no other party leader is better at exciting Republican partisans," said Claremont McKenna College political science professor John Pitney. "As a surrogate, he would add some much-needed red meat to a campaign that seems to favor Lean Cuisine."