Wed May. 02 2012 9:14:27 AM | The Associated Press
In this April 5, 2012, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, gestures while speaking at the University of California at Berkeley, Calif. Some of Mitt Romney’s former foes have yet to endorse him as the Republicans’ presidential nominee. The congressman from Texas is still in the race and hasn’t yet recognized Romney as the party’s nominee. He is pushing a libertarian message of ending the Federal Reserve, returning the country’s currency to the gold standard and reducing the United States’ involvement around the globe. Romney disagrees with those positions, likely precluding an endorsement from Paul. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)
WASHINGTON — With Newt Gingrich officially ending his campaign on Wednesday, only Texas Rep. Ron Paul remained as a nominal challenger to Mitt Romney, who has all but locked up the Republican nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in November.
The libertarian Paul, who has conducted a minimalist campaign and has the support of a small but determined following, appears ready to stubbornly stay in the race until the party’s national convention in August.
Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, led the Republicans out of 40 years of minority status in the lower house of Congress in 1994 but later resigned under an ethics cloud. He was trying to stage a political comeback in this year’s primary contests, but he won primaries in only conservative South Carolina and Georgia, the state he represented for 20 years.
As he prepared to officially end his campaign, Gingrich thanked supporters in a video message posted on his website, saying their help was vital. His campaign has reported being more than $4 million in debt, despite millions pumped by a gambling casino owner into an allied super political action committee.
Gingrich pledged to work hard to prevent the “genuine disaster” he says would result from re-electing Obama, but he did not mention Romney, who crushed him and closest Republican rival Rick Santorum with scorching negative advertisements in the primary contests. Those state elections and caucuses do not end until late June, but Romney was expected to have rolled up the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination by late this month.
As Gingrich prepared to withdraw, Obama was making an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sign a pact that outlines a 10-year U.S. military and financial commitment to the battle-scarred nation once foreign forces turn security over to the Afghan army at the end of 2014.
As part of the trip, Obama addressed the U.S. people on national television from the U.S. military headquarters at the Bagram air base north of the Kabul.
The journey coincided with the anniversary of Obama ordering a Navy SEAL raid into Pakistan that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
As Obama again assured Americans the Afghan war was coming to an end, he said that during his presidency “the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban’s momentum. We’ve built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al-Qaida’s leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders.”
The Obama campaign has sought to raise questions about whether Romney would have ordered the risky attack on bin Laden.
In New York on Tuesday, Romney said it was “totally appropriate” for Obama to claim credit for taking out bin Laden but wrong to politicize what had been a unifying event for all Americans.
“I think politicizing it and trying to draw a distinction between himself and myself was an inappropriate use of the very important event that brought America together,” Romney said.
The two candidates are nearly even in most polls six months before the election. The two men have been taking direct aim at each other in a series of speeches and campaign ads.