Gingrich makes play for Santorum supporters

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at a town hall meeting at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La., Tuesday, March 20, 2012. AP Photo/Kita Wright

Newt Gingrich
AP Photo/Kita Wright
NEW BERN, N.C. - Newt Gingrich on Tuesday commended the "courage" of Rick Santorum in suspending his campaign for president, and wasted no time in courting his vanquished rival's money and support. The former House speaker said he feels he has "survived" the Santorum surge, another sign he thinks Santorum's exit is a benefit to his long-odds campaign.

Within an hour of Santorum's announcement that had ended his bid for the Republican nomination, the Gingrich campaign posted to its website a fundraising appeal for "the last conservative standing." Moments earlier, Gingrich released a statement promising to "stay in this race all the way to Tampa" and "humbly" asking Santorum fans to visit Newt.org.

In a press conference that by chance coincided with Santorum's announcement, Gingrich suggested that Santorum was worried about losing his home state of Pennsylvania's primary later this month, and also cited the "long, difficult process" that the primary has turned out to be.

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Asked if he thinks the party can still reach a brokered convention without Santorum's help in thwarting front-runner Mitt Romney's collection of the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination, Gingrich said, "I think we have to wait and see what happens over the next few weeks."

"... Remember, I've lived through being told my campaign was dead, the surge for Tim Pawlenty... then the surge for [Michele] Bachmann, then the surge for [Herman] Cain one, then the surge for Gov. [Rick] Perry, then the surge for Cain two, then I got to be the front-runner for a little while," he said. "And then we had the Santorum surge. And... I said at the time, 'Oh yeah, this is the new one.' Well, if in fact he's getting out today, we've now survived that surge."

Gingrich said he would "love" to receive Santorum's endorsement, but hadn't yet heard from him at the time of the press conference. Santorum is in the process of setting up a meeting with Romney, who also no doubt is seeking Santorum's blessing.

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"I didn't know any more than you did until about an hour ago," Gingrich said. "I thought he was going to campaign through Pennsylvania so, obviously we would like to get his delegates and frankly, on values and on conservatism, I am much closer to Sen. Santorum's delegates than Gov. Romney is."

Whatever happens with Santorum's delegates, money, and supporters, Gingrich said his decision today "makes it clearer and simpler" for the Republican Party.

"There is one conservative voice in the race, and then there is a moderate," he said. "And I think it makes it easier to articulate and to focus on the platform issues I want to focus on. ... It probably clears some space for me to be heard more clearly and more decisively."

Full CBS News coverage: Newt Gingrich

  • Lindsey Boerma On Twitter»

    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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