WASHINGTON _ Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's already shaky presidential campaign suffered a stunning and perhaps irreparable setback Thursday as all his top staffers quit.
"I think our path to victory was at odds with the candidate's," said Rick Tyler, Gingrich's spokesman. He resigned along with campaign manager Rob Johnson and campaign officials in the key early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Among the disagreements, Tyler said, was "the amount of time the candidate would have to spend in different states."
Gingrich vowed to stay in the race, saying on Facebook, "I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring. The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles."
The departures could be a lethal blow, said Craig Robinson, the editor and founder of The Iowa Republican.com website, which follows GOP news in the state that traditionally holds the nation's first presidential nomination voting.
"Gingrich is virtually done," Robinson said. "His campaign has been a calamity of errors."
Gingrich, 67, has been a candidate officially since May 11. Four days later, he ignited a conservative firestorm by labeling House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's plan to begin ending traditional Medicare in 10 years as "right-wing social engineering." He later apologized to the Wisconsin Republican but he didn't retract his critique.
Then came reports that Gingrich and his third wife, Callista, once owed up to $500,000 to Tiffany's, the luxury jeweler.
The final blow to staffers was apparently Gingrich's recent Mediterranean cruise vacation. Staffers wanted to see more dedication to the campaign from Gingrich at a time when the race is heating up and his rivals are working hard, according to insiders who asked not to be identified so as not to incur the candidate's wrath.
The presidential campaign has entered a crucial phase that requires intensive fundraising, courting of small groups and individuals in key states, and barnstorming those states from dawn till well past dark.
Gingrich has done little of that. While he's made campaign stops, most of the publicity about him has focused on his controversies. And then he took the Mediterranean vacation.
The departing staffers told Gingrich their plans at a Washington meeting.
The mass staff resignation hurts, said Dante Scala, a political science associate professor at the University of New Hampshire.
"It's clearly a vote of no confidence in the candidate and his ideas for a campaign," he said. "It seems to me his staffers signed up for a campaign, and not finding one, decided to move on."
"He had been well-received here," Iowa's Robinson said. "But that vacation showed a complete lack of seriousness about the race."
New Hampshire traditionally holds the nation's first presidential primary, and seven Republican candidates, including Gingrich, are scheduled to debate Monday night in Manchester.
Gingrich resigned from Congress after disappointing Republican results in the 1998 elections. He'd lost the support of many of his GOP colleagues in the House of Representatives, who found him disorganized.
Gingrich forged a reputation as a visionary, if bombastic, Republican leader in the '80s and '90s. Since he left public office 13 years ago he's been a virtual one-man think tank of policy proposals, as well as a successful author and popular speaker.
Nationally, Gingrich was lagging even before his campaign blew up. A McClatchy-Marist poll April 10-14 found him with only 4 percent support among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, placing him seventh. He did somewhat better in the May 18-22 University of New Hampshire poll of Republicans in that state, placing third with 7 percent. But that was still far behind Romney at 33 percent. The margin of error was 5 percentage points.
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