Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – ‘Wild ride’ ends

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (L) and his wife, Callista walk together after he suspended his bid for the GOP presidential nomination in Arlington, Virginia, May 2, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

The sharpest debater in the 2012 field of Republican presidential candidates exited the race touting a hodgepodge of initiatives that made his failed race so colorful. 

“Suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship,” Newt Gingrich warned in his long-awaited announcement that he was quitting. He then ticked off the vision of America he will continue to pursue as a private citizen:

His fabled U.S. colony on the Moon, holograms in houses, cures for diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, not to mention a national energy policy/balanced budget that would free the United States from “radical Islam, Saudi kings and Chinese bondholders.”

The bombastic former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives brought an element of unpredictability to the Republican presidential nominating contest. His come-from-behind victory in South Carolina in January briefly led some to wonder whether Mitt Romney really could be knocked off.

Watch live: Gingrich officially bows out

Gingrich is expected to officially suspend his campaign with a speech at the Arlington Hilton hotel in Washington at 3pm ET.

Watch live:

Washington Extra – Moonshot no more

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich bows his head in prayer before speaking at First Redeemer Church while on a campaign tour in Cumming, Georgia, February 26, 2012. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Earth calling Newt: When the biggest news of your presidential campaign is the penguin biting your hand at the zoo, it’s probably time to pack it in.

Even though Newt Gingrich’s odds of winning the Republican nomination were about as long as those of realizing his dream for a moon colony, the 68-year-old seemed to enjoy himself to the end. “I never got the sense that he was quote-unquote down,” said adviser Charlie Gerow. “I got the sense on a couple of occasions that he was tired. Really tired.” And really in debt. His campaign spent $4.3 million more than it brought in.

Romney’s small dollar disconnect

After his win in Illinois on Tuesday, Mitt Romney is looking to convince Republicans around the country that he’s their ultimate nominee.

But despite his lead in the delegate count, Romney continues to lag behind his rivals in raising money from so-called small-dollar donors, supporters who donate less than $200. Donations from people who contributed less than $200 — often viewed as a gauge of popular appeal — are filed as “unitemized” donations with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

FEC filings on Tuesday showed Romney’s campaign has so far raised $7.5 million from small donors, which comprises only 10 percent of his fundraising. That proportion has roughly remained the same throughout the campaign.

Washington Extra – Etch A Sketch

Ah, if life were only like an Etch A Sketch, a little shake would allow us to erase those mistakes and messy parts. But to invoke the magical toy to explain Mitt Romney’s presidential hopes might have been a mistake, one worth erasing with a shake.

It seems that every Romney win is followed by a Romney gaffe. This time, after his Illinois victory last night, it was not the candidate who stepped in it, but rather his adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, who wanted to talk about what Romney would be like in a general election against President Obama.

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again,” Fehrnstrom told CNN.

Newt’s home field advantage was among the weakest

Newt Gingrich faces some do-or-die primary contests in Dixie, his supposed home turf, over the next few days. Alabama and Mississippi hold their respective Republican primaries on Tuesday with Gingrich, the former U.S. House Speaker, and former Senator Rick Santorum expected to compete for, and potentially split, the conservative/evangelical vote.

Gingrich, though, didn’t do that well on his actual home turf – Georgia – during the Super Tuesday contests. Sure, the former history and geography professor at the University of West Georgia and 20-year representative of the state’s 6th Congressional district won 47.2 percent of the Republican vote in the Peachtree State. But according to political scientist Eric Ostermeier, that was one of the worst home-state primary performances by a Republican in decades.

Ostermeier, from the Humphrey School’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, writes the blog Smart Politics, which plumbs the political data for noteworthy facts and trends.

Pro-Gingrich Super PAC hits Romney in new ad

Winning Our Future, the Super PAC supporting Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, is back at it again — animated advertising, that is.

The Super PAC has been on something of a TV hiatus since Gingrich’s stunning South Carolina win in late January, in part because it appeared to be running out of money. The group has been almost exclusively funded by Las Vegas Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who we now know wrote a new “substantial” check to the group a few days ago.

The money is in part funding three new ads, one of which brings back the cartoon rendering of Romney and Obama we met in the Super PAC’s first animated creation in January.

Gingrich offers “dream team” to supporters

For a $100 donation, this free poster of Newt Gingrich and his conservative “Dream Team” can be yours.

The poster — featuring the Republican presidential candidate flanked by endorsers of his White House bid  — was offered to supporters Tuesday in a new fundraising appeal.

The Dream Team photo was unveiled at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington last week. The Gingrich campaign said it was hit, and now conservatives across the  country are clamoring for a copy of their own.

Tending to China-US relations

Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any for China and the United States to work on the kinks in their relationship.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping signaled beforehand that tending to the state of the  “dynamic and promising” U.S.-China connection would be the at the heart of his White House visit on Tuesday.

The economic and trade relationship between the two countries is far too important to be frayed by “frictions and differences,” Xi wrote in a Q&A submitted to the Washington Post and published on the eve of his White House meeting with President Barack Obama.

Washington Extra – A Deng Xiaoping Moment?

By Warren Strobel

Maybe it’s the careful, consensus-oriented system that produces them, but China’s leaders in recent years have not exactly exuded personality. President Hu Jintao is famous for his stiff manner and scripted speaking style. Jiang Zemin was slightly more relaxed, and enjoyed showing off his English language skills and knowledge of U.S. history.

Washington on Tuesday will get its first close look at China’s next president, current Vice President Xi Jinping, who has a reputation for being more open and refreshingly direct than some of his predecessors. It may be too much to hope for a “Deng Xiaoping moment,” a 1979 turning point in Sino-American cultural relations when the diminutive Deng, China’s great modernizer, attended a rodeo in Simonton, Texas, donned a giant cowboy hat and wowed the crowd. Deng was then China’s vice premier.

Xi has conflicting needs on this visit. He wants to show peers and the public back home that he can handle the American account, China’s most important relationship. He visited Iowa in 1985 and, by all accounts, the experience affected him. He also wants to strike a good working relationship with the White House and Capitol Hill, which could help both sides handle a daunting array of disagreements: human rights, the South China Sea, China’s currency, and Obama’s more aggressive posture in Asia, to name a few.