POLITICS

GOP candidates try to capitalize on Gingrich's woes

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ATLANTA (AP) - Newt Gingrich said Friday he is committed to campaigning "very intensely" for the White House, chalking up the mass resignation of his top campaign staff to "strategic differences."

Speaking to reporters outside his suburban Virginia home on Friday, Gingrich vowed to continue with a non-traditional campaign.

"There is a fundamental strategic difference between the traditional consulting community and the kind of campaign I want to run." He also said that "we'll find out over the next year who's right."

He received a vote of confidence on Friday from one high-profile backer: Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, his campaign chairman in his old home state.

"When the going gets rough, I don't cut and run on my friends," Deal said Friday. Still, whether the former House speaker remains a viable candidate is now in serious doubt.

Already, his opponents in the Republican field are scrambling to capitalize on the upheaval, courting disillusioned Gingrich donors and picking off key campaign supporters.

News of the Gingrich staff exodus had barely registered Thursday before former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was trumpeting word that one of Gingrich's national co-chairmen - former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue - had jumped ship and joined Pawlenty's White House campaign. Two top staffers who fled Gingrich's campaign – including campaign manager Rob Johnson - have close ties to Rick Perry, ramping up speculation that the brash Texas governor could jump into the unsettled GOP race.

Gingrich is set to deliver what is billed as a major foreign policy address to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles and is then scheduled to attend a Republican debate Monday in New Hampshire.

But political strategists said the 67-year-old Gingrich - already mounting an uphill fight for the Republican nomination - now faces nearly insurmountable obstacles.

Rich Galen, a former Gingrich aide, said he doesn't believe his old boss can recover.

"It is coming to a quick and merciful end," Galen said, comparing Gingrich's comeback bid to "watching a really great prize fighter come back for one last fight that he never should have."

A political campaign in disarray will struggle to raise money and attract talented staff. On Thursday, Gingrich appeared to be leading a campaign without an infrastructure.

To be sure, presidential campaigns have gotten past staff shake-ups before.

Republican John McCain survived the resignation of several key staffers in 2007 and went on to win the Republican nomination the following year. Democrat John Kerry fired his campaign manager late in the 2003 race and locked up his party's nod in 2004.

But the sudden void in camp Gingrich cuts wide and deep. In addition to losing his campaign manager, senior adviser and longtime press aide, he also saw key staff in the pivotal early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina head for the exits.

Perhaps most problematic for the former Georgia congressman is that the internal tumult laid bare on Thursday feeds into what many had already believed to be his Achilles' heel: that he lacks the discipline to make a serious run for the White House.

 

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