Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich says he will continue his quest for the Republican Party's presidential nomination despite a mass walkout of key campaign staff. The staff departure is the latest political setback for Gingrich, who began the campaign as one of the best known Republican contenders for the White House next year.
More than a dozen Gingrich campaign aides quit as a group this week, including his campaign manager, chief spokesman and key staff aides in the important early presidential contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Spokesman Rick Tyler cited differences over the direction of the campaign and questions about Gingrich's commitment to making a serious run at the nomination. The staff departures came shortly after Gingrich and his wife returned from a cruise vacation in Greece.
Gingrich told reporters Friday there were differences over campaign strategy, but he vowed to pursue the Republican nomination in new and dynamic ways in the weeks ahead.
"We had a strategic disagreement about how to run a campaign like that because there have been very few campaigns that are solutions-oriented and that are oriented to every single American," Gingrich said.
Political experts say the mass staff defections are a serious blow to the Gingrich campaign, which has had numerous stumbles from the beginning.
Darrell West is a political analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington
"To have the entire leadership of a campaign walk out of a door simultaneously this early in a campaign is really unprecedented, so it's really damaging to Mr. Gingrich," West noted.
Gingrich began his presidential campaign as one of the better known Republican contenders because of his tenure as U.S. House speaker in the 1990s and his political battles with then President Bill Clinton.
But after he launched his campaign earlier this year, Gingrich quickly angered conservatives when he criticized a Republican congressional proposal to revamp the popular government health care program for the elderly known as Medicare.
Two of the Gingrich aides who quit previously worked for Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry is a favorite with conservative activists within the Republican Party and after initially saying he wasn't interested in joining the presidential race, now says he is reconsidering.
The turmoil in the Gingrich campaign comes on the heels of new public opinion polls that suggest former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney remains the man to beat in the Republican presidential field.
Some conservatives worry that Romney is too much of a moderate and that has spurred several conservative contenders to get into the race. They include former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Georgia businessman Herman Cain, the only African-American candidate and a favorite of Tea Party activists.
Washington based political analyst Stuart Rothenberg is a guest on VOA's Encounter program.
"And so all these candidates are going to have to try to figure out who becomes the alternative to Mitt Romney because he is so well known and has won a race before and has resources and organization, and I think we are going to have a wide open race here," Rothenberg said.
The Republican presidential contenders hold their first major debate Monday in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, which will hold the first presidential primary early next year.