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Gingrich wraps up turbulent campaign

Newt Gingrich's turbulent bid for the Republican presidential nomination ended Wednesday, closing a raucous chapter in the GOP race that saw the outspoken, often outrageous former speaker of the House tumble rapidly from front-runner to also-ran.

He suspended his campaign -- effectively ending it -- in a small meeting room at a hotel in this Washington suburb. He didn't offer an endorsement of presumptive nominee Mitt Romney -- that's expected sometime in the future -- but he came close.

"I'm asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative enough, and my answer is simple: Compared to Barack Obama? You know, this is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical, leftist president in American history," Gingrich said

With his wife, Callista, by his side, he vowed they would "focus on a series of key issues and try and educate the country." He listed spending, space, health care, the work ethic, China, Yemen and a host of other subjects. He joked about his low points, recalling his January comment that a moon colony is in America's future. He said that his wife reminded him at least 219 times that "moon colony" was probably not my most clever comment in the campaign. I thought, frankly, that in my role of providing material for 'Saturday Night Live,' it was helpful."

In reaction to the withdrawal, Romney said, "Newt Gingrich has brought creativity and intellectual vitality to American political life. During the course of this campaign, Newt demonstrated both eloquence and fearlessness in advancing conservative ideas."

Gingrich's goodbye ends a wild ride that began about a year ago. In June, his campaign manager and much of his senior staff quit, after Gingrich and his wife took a cruise to the Greek Isles rather than hitting the campaign trail as the race intensified. Yet Gingrich kept fighting, relying largely on the good will of Republicans across the country who fondly remembered how he engineered the 1994 House victories that gave the GOP control of the chamber for the first time in 40 years.

He led many national GOP preference polls in December and January. But he was disorganized; for example, he failed to qualify for the primary ballot in Virginia, where he lives.

Gingrich thrived for a while in January. His candor won him supporters in the seemingly endless string of Republican debates. But his ex-wife Marianne said Gingrich had offered her a choice of an open marriage or a divorce, and at a debate two days before South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary, CNN's John King asked Gingrich about the report. The question, the candidate snarled, was "as close to despicable as anything I can imagine." The audience applauded loudly, and Gingrich won the state's primary.

But he couldn't compete with Romney's juggernaut.