Arlington (US): Former House speaker Newt Gingrich dropped his erratic campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, but pledged to remain in the public eye as an "active citizen."

"Today, I am suspending the campaign. Suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship," Gingrich said on Wednesday in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, with his wife Callista at his side.

His exit leaves only Ron Paul, an anti-tax and anti-war veteran Texas congressman, officially in the race against presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.

The 68-year-old Gingrich, best known for his polarizing term as leader of the House of Representatives in the 1990s, enjoyed brief spurts of success after a chaotic start to his presidential campaign.

But ultimately, Gingrich won just two nominating contests since the start of the state-by-state race in January – in his home state of Georgia and in South Carolina -- and was a distant third in the fight to take on US President Barack Obama in November.

Former US senator Rick Santorum, who overtook Gingrich as the Republicans' favourite alternative to Romney, quit the race last month. Paul remains a fringe candidate, consistently placing fourth in the primary season and with no chance of catching Romney, who has effectively embarked on a general election campaign against the Democratic incumbent.

Gingrich, deeply critical of Romney during the nomination race, said his old rival was better than Obama, who is seeking a second term -- but stopped short of offering his full endorsement.
"As to the presidency, I am asked sometimes -- is Mitt Romney conservative enough? My answer is simple -- compared to Barack Obama?" Gingrich said.

"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."

His spokesman R C Hammond said  a formal endorsement of Romney would come later, noting the date would depend on Romney's campaign.

Gingrich touted himself as the Republican Party's philosopher king, an intellectual with conservative roots going back to the Reagan years and a debater who could make mincemeat of Obama.

 However, his multiple marriages and erratic record on policy positions made the Republican right mistrust him, while his love of public speaking tended to translate into lecturing, rather than inspiring speeches.

(Agencies)

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