Gingrich: “strategic” differences led to staff exit

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Friday blamed a mass exodus from his campaign team on a “strategic” disagreement with staff and pledged to step up a campaign aimed at unifying Americans.

The former House of Representatives speaker’s hopes of winning the 2012 Republican presidential nomination suffered a body blow on Thursday when his campaign manager, spokesman and senior strategist abandoned the already sputtering campaign.

Leaders of his operations in the early voting states of New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Gingrich’s home state of Georgia also resigned.

The departures may shake up the slowly emerging Republican presidential field vying for the right to challenge President Barack Obama. They have already heightened speculation that Texas Governor Rick Perry will enter the race because the exodus

was led by two former Perry aides.

Appearing outside his Virginia home, Gingrich cast the rift as a clash between standard campaign practices and his own fresh approach on how to succeed.

“There is a fundamental strategic difference between the traditional consulting community and the kind of campaign I want to run. Now we’ll find out over the next year who’s right,” Gingrich told reporters in a video recorded by ABC News.

“I’m prepared to go out and to campaign very intensely but I want a campaign on ideas and on solutions and I want to do it in a way that brings Americans together,” he added.

His schedule includes a weekend stop in Los Angeles and Monday’s televised Republican presidential primary debate in New Hampshire.

Gingrich’s campaign has had serious problems almost from the start. Days after announcing his candidacy, he came under intense fire from fellow conservatives for criticizing the Medicare reform plan proposed by Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Gingrich apologized, but then came the disclosure that he had maintained about as much as $500,000 in debt to high-fashion jeweler Tiffany & Co from 2005 to 2006.

Further criticism arose when he abruptly left the campaign trail for a high-style Greek cruise with his third wife, Callista.

Departing staff acknowledged differences over the campaign but also said they had questions about Gingrich’s time commitments. U.S. media have also reported frictions between the staff and Gingrich’s wife, who has played an influential role in the campaign.

“We make decisions as a couple. I think most couples would find that refreshing, not a problem,” he told reporters.