Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich picked up the endorsement of Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) Thursday, the first of what the campaign says will be a series of alliances to be announced in the coming days.
“Newt is a true conservative and a proven leader who has focused his campaign on the issues, presenting real solutions to the problems facing our country today,” the congressman said in a statement issued by the Gingrich campaign. “He is uniting conservatives across the country, and I believe he is the best man to defeat President Obama. I’m proud to put my support behind Newt and look forward to helping him win back the White House.”
The endorsement came on the same day that the campaign of Gingrich’s leading rival for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney, began a coordinated attack on the former House speaker’s conservative record. In a conference call with the media, former senator Jim Talent and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu blasted Gingrich’s leadership. Talent served in the House when Gingrich was speaker, and Sununu worked with Gingrich when Sununu was White House chief of staff.
The Westmoreland endorsement is intended to counter that narrative, and one Gingrich campaign adviser granted anonymity to speak freely said more such announcements are on the way.
Westmoreland’s support for Gingrich marks a turnaround from his views of the former House speaker back in 2005, when Gingrich was considering a presidential bid in the 2008 election.
“Personally, I don’t think Newt would run for president. But that’s just my opinion. I think he’s just enjoying the fact that he’s getting some good press out of it, and will go on about his business,” Westmoreland said then, as reported in Roll Call. Westmoreland also said that Gingrich would have a hard time running from Georgia.
“He’s certainly not a native Georgian,” Westmoreland said. “And I doubt seriously that he would run as a favorite son of Georgia since he’s spent most of his time in D.C.”
The endorsement also came the day after Gingrich met with more than 70 conservatives at an Arlington hotel to try to establish himself as the more conservative candidate in the race.
Gingrich was introduced at the meeting by conservative standard-bearer by Richard Viguerie, who told the group that there are just three possible winners in 2012r: President Obama, Romney or Gingrich.
Gingrich fielded two hours’ worth of “tough questions” from the room, said Amy Kremer, one of the invitees and the chairwoman of Tea Party Express. He was asked about past views on climate change and health care and about his rocky personal life, which includes a long-term extra-marital affair with his now-third wife, Callista Gingrich.
“People seemed very receptive to what he was saying,” Kremer said. “... It obviously was not a walk in the park for him. There were some tough questions that were asked, but he stood up there and answered the questions and appeared to be honest and truthful.
“Obviously there were some people who were very unhappy with him over different issues,” she said. “I don’t know that he swayed them one way or the other, but he at least addressed them with what they were asking.”
Also attending the meeting were Gary Bauer, Frank Donatelli and representatives of the Federalist Society and Concerned Women for America, among others.
During the conference call on Thursday, Sununu accused Gingrich “self-aggrandizement,” saying, “He’s more concerned with Newt Gingrich than he is about conservative principles.”
Staff writer Ben Pershing contributed to this article.