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Gingrich campaign hit by defections

Ex-aides question commitment to race

Newt Gingrich said he intends to keep running. Newt Gingrich said he intends to keep running.
By Theo Emery and Matt Viser
Globe Staff / June 10, 2011

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WASHINGTON — More than a dozen aides and advisers to Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign team, including his top staff and national cochairman, abruptly resigned yesterday, raising serious doubts about the viability of the former House speaker’s bid for the White House.

The resignations occurred because of differences between Gingrich and his staff over the candidate’s role and his commitment to campaigning, according to his longtime spokesman Rick Tyler and his Iowa campaign director, Craig Schoenfeld. Gingrich and his wife recently vacationed on a cruise in the Greek islands, raising eyebrows among political observers and fueling staff concerns that he wasn’t taking the campaign as seriously as he should.

More than a half-dozen of Gingrich’s top staff left, including Tyler, Schoen feld, campaign manager Rob Johnson, senior adviser Sam Dawson, New Hampshire adviser David Carney, South Carolina adviser Katon Dawson, and Georgia adviser Scott Rials. The entire six-person staff in Iowa resigned, according to Schoenfeld.

“There needs to be an investment of candidate time, to not only actually do the retail politics but to the fund-raising and everything else. . . . It was not evident that what I thought needed to be done meshed with what he thought could be done,’’ said Schoenfeld.

“I don’t think the trip to Greece was very helpful,’’ Tyler said.

Also yesterday, Gingrich’s national campaign cochairman, Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia, announced he was leaving the campaign and had signed on with opponent Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota.

In a backhanded slap at Gingrich, Perdue said that Pawlenty was “the person I now believe stands the greatest chance of defeating President Obama.’’

“He [Pawlenty] is the only candidate who has laid out a real plan to grow the American economy, and his track record in Minnesota is proof he’s the right man for the job,’’ Perdue said in a statement on Pawlenty’s campaign website.

Despite the defections, Gingrich said he intended to continue his campaign.

The resignations are the most visible sign of the serious turmoil within the Gingrich camp, and the latest in what was a bumpy candidacy even before Gingrich’s long-anticipated jump into the race last month.

Gingrich’s viability has long been in doubt because of his two divorces and admissions of infidelity.

Then came disclosures that he and his wife, Callista, had run up between $250,000 and $500,000 in credit card bills at the jeweler Tiffany & Co.

And in his first week after announcing his candidacy, Gingrich infuriated many fellow Republicans with his stinging criticism of a GOP House budget proposal that proposed major changes to Medicare, and was forced to backpedal furiously.

Tyler and Schoenfeld said the resignations came after a series of meetings in recent days that culminated in a final meeting yesterday between Sam Dawson and Johnson, Tyler said.

Tyler wouldn’t detail the disagreement, but said it had to do with “the role of the candidate.’’

“It was a question of performance of a candidate making the transition into a candidate,’’ Tyler said. “I think he would make a wonderful president. . . . But I can’t be effective for him anymore because I have a disagreement in the direction of the campaign.’’

Schoenfeld was more explicit, saying the decision to part ways came because of differences over the commitment necessary to win the election.

With the vital Iowa straw poll looming, he said, it appeared to the staff that the candidate was not prepared to do what was necessary.

“You need to be here in Iowa. You can’t not be in the state in June, and just once or twice in July, and be successful and have the path for success in the straw poll [in August] and everything that follows that,’’ he said.

Schoenfeld also indicated that Gingrich was a “big believer in social media’’ and Internet campaigning, while wooing potential voters meant pounding the pavement and pressing the flesh as voters in Iowa demand of serious candidates.

“In Iowa it’s retail campaigning, it’s retail politics, and you need to be on the ground,’’ Schoenfeld said.

Despite the mass resignations, Gingrich said in a statement posted to Facebook and e-mailed to supporters that the campaign would continue.

“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,’’ he said in the statement.

In a sign that Gingrich was not shrinking from the public eye, — at least for now — a spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition said that Gingrich was still confirmed to deliver an address on the Middle East and US foreign policy at an event Sunday in Beverly Hills.

He is also scheduled to take part in a debate in New Hampshire Monday evening.

Some of the resigning Gingrich aides are also close to Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who has been frequently named as a possible presidential contender as well. Tyler said he had no plans to go to Perry’s camp.

Despite the resignations, both Tyler and Schoenfeld insisted that they supported Gingrich, and felt that he remained a top contender and potentially a great president, albeit without their help.

Theo Emery can be reached at temery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @temery. Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.