ARLINGTON, Virginia (Reuters) - Newt Gingrich ended his tumultuous run for U.S. president on Wednesday after dazzling in televised debates but winning only two of the dozens of nominating contests in the Republican primary race.
The former U.S. House of Representatives speaker, the face of the Republican party in the mid-1990s, badly trailed front-runner Mitt Romney in polls and his campaign fell into debt of $4.3 million.
Gingrich dropped his White House bid at a news conference in Arlington, Virginia, although he had not been campaigning properly for weeks after plunging in polls and cutting staff.
Gingrich briefly led the Republican pack before the Iowa caucuses on January 3, but he fell victim to a new force in U.S. politics: the independent "Super PACs" or political action committees that have no limits on how much money they can raise or spend in support of candidates.
Though Gingrich had the support of one Super PAC, a pro-Romney group spent millions in negative ads attacking Gingrich as a Washington insider, which ended up taking its toll.
Author of the Contract With America that helped Republicans win back control of Congress in 1994, Gingrich won primaries in South Carolina and his home state of Georgia this year but failed to make a mark in larger states like Florida and Ohio.
Gingrich's run turned ideas like establishing a U.S. moon colony and having school children work as janitors into front-page fodder. His campaign descended into near farce last month when he was bitten in the hand by a penguin during a visit to a zoo in St. Louis.
(Reporting By Deborah Charles, Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by David Storey)