Deal sticks with Gingrich, while Perdue said campaign ‘vibrancy' was gone

Gov. Nathan Deal said Friday he is sticking with Newt Gingrich's embattled presidential campaign while Deal's predecessor said he bolted over Gingrich's loss of "vibrancy."

Deal, Gingrich's state chairman, said he will not abandon his friend, despite the Republican presidential hopeful's campaign implosion a day earlier.

“Newt Gingrich is my friend and I support his campaign for the presidency," Deal said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "When the going gets rough, I don’t cut and run on my friends."

But former Gov. Sonny Perdue, who had been Gingrich's national co-chair, said he joined former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's campaign because Gingrich had not shown himself capable of winning.

"All of us who were Newt supporters had become cumulatively disappointed in some of the missteps and misstatements," Perdue told the AJC in a telephone interview. "That was really not the Newt I felt like I knew and I don't believe Newt acquitted himself in the way I thought he was capable."

The statements from the two governors come the day after most of Gingrich's top staff and advisers in key states quit the campaign and left many doubting whether the former Georgia congressman and U.S. House speaker would stay in the race.

"Everyone has become increasingly concerned about the vibrancy of the campaign," Perdue said.

Perdue said he and Gingrich had not spoken in several weeks and he did not tell Gingrich he was going to defect.

Gingrich now lives in Virginia, but has family and offices in Georgia and had said he would run his campaign largely from here. But a key aide told the AJC Thursday that Gingrich had never set foot in his Buckhead office.

Gingrich's other national co-chairman, former Georgia Gov. and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller told The Associated Press he, too, plans to continue backing Gingrich. Miller did not return messages from the AJC.

Gingrich has vowed to remain in the race and told ABC News on Friday that he and his top aides "had a strategic disagreement about how to run a campaign. There have been very few campaigns that have been solutions oriented and that are oriented to every single American."

Gingrich vowed to campaign "very intensely."

"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 into a large movement," he told the network in an interview outside his McLean, Va., home.

"There is a fundamental strategic difference between the traditional (political) consulting community and the kind of campaign I want to run. Now we'll find out over the next year who's right," Gingrich said.

Presidential scholar and University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said he would expect Gingrich to remain in the race -- for now.

"I bet you he stays in for some of the debates," Sabato said. "He thinks that's his forum. He is good in debates. But it doesn't matter at a certain point. Even a lot of people who like Newt say ‘Gee, I'd love to hear his ideas, but I'm not going to vote for him.'"

Gingrich is expected to give a foreign policy speech Sunday in Los Angeles and participate in a GOP debate Monday in New Hampshire.

Perdue said he became convinced Gingrich was no longer the best option to beat President Barack Obama.

He and Pawlenty served at the same time and are friends, Perdue said. He said he encouraged Pawlenty to run two years ago. Perdue said it felt "awkward" to endorse Gingrich, but "Newt had come and asked and he was a Georgian, a former speaker, and I felt like he could be good for America, so I accepted."

But, now, Perdue said, Gingrich's "candidacy did not manifest itself into what I thought it could be. I believe Tim Pawlenty is absolutely the best choice."

"Primaries are about presenting the best candidate to the people to be victorious in November of 2012," Perdue said.