Through Debt And Derision, Gingrich Keeps Running Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is more than $4 million in debt, but he keeps campaigning, despite having no chance of seizing the GOP nomination from Mitt Romney. Some critics say Gingrich's dogged refusal to leave the race could seriously damage his political brand.
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Through Debt And Derision, Gingrich Keeps Running

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Through Debt And Derision, Gingrich Keeps Running

Through Debt And Derision, Gingrich Keeps Running

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Five Northeastern states held Republican presidential primaries today. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to win them all. Romney hasn't faced much competition since Rick Santorum dropped out of the race earlier this month.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is still in the running, but he's short of money and lags far behind in the polls. As WNYC's Anna Sale reports, Gingrich is fighting to stay relevant.

ANNA SALE, BYLINE: One of the former House speaker's biggest recent headlines came when a penguin bit his finger during a stop at the St. Louis Zoo. The crowd was a little friendlier at a New York state Republican dinner in Manhattan last week, although the scene was kind of awkward.

ED COX: I'd like to introduce our first speaker, a man who's played a major role in our presidential selection process.

SALE: That's New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, choosing his words carefully as he brought Gingrich to the stage. Cox had already endorsed Romney for president. Gingrich played to the crowd of party insiders.

NEWT GINGRICH: I don't want any of you to be confused about this, and I don't want the media to be confused. I've stayed in the race to articulate big themes and big issues.


SALE: At a rally in Buffalo, New York, though, Gingrich had a different message.

GINGRICH: Gov. Romney's ahead, but he is only about halfway to the number he needs for the nomination. He can raise a lot more money than I can, but I think we have a lot more people than he has.

SALE: It's not clear which people Gingrich is talking about, given that the former speaker has only won two primaries. Gingrich's host in Buffalo was Carl Paladino, the unvarnished, Tea Party-backed candidate for New York governor two years ago. He won the Republican nomination before losing to Democrat Andrew Cuomo by a nearly two-to-one margin.

Paladino admits Gingrich's chances at the nomination are slim to none, but he wants to help Gingrich stand up to the party powers.

CARL PALADINO: Nationally, the old estab - the big money people, OK, are driving us toward Romney. And I think it's a big mistake.

SALE: Gingrich is the no-money candidate, at this point. At the end of February, Gingrich reported about as much in debt as he had in cash on hand. A month later, those debts had ballooned to $4.3 million, with less than one and a quarter million in the bank. Gingrich acknowledges his money troubles - to a point.

GINGRICH: We're doing what any business does when it runs into a shortfall. We've cut expenses. We've begun paying off debt, and we're working our way back to balance. But I would also say, as the only speaker of the House in your lifetime to balance the budget for four straight years, I think my record on balancing the public budget is pretty unchallengeable.

SALE: There is still a Gingrich campaign with money - the superPAC backing him. Winning Our Future got another $5 million last month from the wife of casino magnet Sheldon Adelson. Together, the couple has contributed $20 million.

The superPAC senior adviser, Rick Tyler, is a longtime Gingrich associate. He doesn't say how Winning Our Future will spend its remaining funds, but he says the group will keep pressing the Romney campaign from the right.

RICK TYLER: I think they would like nothing more than to quickly, you know, hit the reset button; you know, shake up the Etch-A-Sketch, and start to move toward the center.

SALE: Tyler doesn't think Romney can win without energy from the party's activist base.

TYLER: We do not want him to move toward the center. We want him to represent conservative values of a conservative party. And I think the majority of Republicans would agree with that.

SALE: It's Gingrich, though, who some conservatives are losing patience with. Last week, a group called the Taxpayers Protection Alliance called for Gingrich to surrender his publicly funded Secret Service protection. The Secret Service wouldn't tell NPR how much protection costs, but the agency's director told Congress in 2008 that it averaged around $38,000 a day.

The alliance's president, David Williams, says the Gingrich campaign doesn't warrant that expense.

DAVID WILLIAMS: It's becoming obvious to everybody that this campaign is winding down. You know, he's talked about being a fiscal conservative in the past, so now is the time for him to, I guess, put his mouth where our money is - and stop the Secret Service protection.

SALE: That came a week after Gingrich traded shots with FOX News, where he was a paid contributor before the campaign. After Gingrich claimed CNN had been less biased in its coverage, FOX News Chief Roger Ailes reportedly told a group of journalism students that Gingrich was just trying to get in good with the network because he knew he wasn't coming back to FOX.

This isn't the first time Gingrich has found himself alienated from former allies.

STEVEN GILLON: There's always been this tension in Newt Gingrich between the bomb-throwing outsider and the calculating insider.

SALE: Historian Steven Gillon is the author of "The Pact," a book about Gingrich's time in the House. He says all of this is a lot like the months before Gingrich resigned as speaker. And in contrast to Rick Santorum, who got out of the race with his enhanced reputation intact, Gillon says Gingrich may be damaging his political brand.

GILLON: It's his future clients, and his ability to make money and to stay relevant and stay connected, and be someone who can still get speaker's fees. And I think that's what is being threatened if he stays in the race.

SALE: Gingrich told NBC News yesterday that he'll take a deep look at his campaign after the votes are counted in today's primaries. But he might not have much to fall back on. Many of his old projects have floundered during the campaign. One of them, the Center for Health Transformation, a health policy think tank Gingrich founded, filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Sale in New York.

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