LOS ANGELES — Newt Gingrich is dramatically curtailing his campaign schedule, laying off about a third of his staff and dismissing his campaign manager as he focuses on a last-ditch effort to win the Republican presidential nomination at the party's convention.
Gingrich's strategy hinges on preventing front-runner Mitt Romney from winning the 1,144 delegates he needs for the nomination, Gingrich spokesman RC Hammond said Tuesday night. The former House speaker plans to spend much less time in primary states and instead personally call delegates to try to persuade them to back him at the Republican National Convention in August.
"We are not going to cede to Mitt Romney's strategy to take the party down," Hammond said. Ultimately, Gingrich would take the fight to the convention floor, Hammond said.
The new strategy doesn't change Gingrich's promise to support Romney if Romney collects the necessary delegates before the party convenes in Tampa, Fla., Hammond said.
In the meantime, Gingrich planned to shift the campaign's focus to digital outreach – in particular Twitter, YouTube and other social media.
Gingrich's campaign manager, Michael Krull, was asked to resign. Hammond and campaign communications director Joe DeSantis will remain with the campaign. Both have been working for Gingrich for more than a year, even as a group of consultants quit the campaign last summer.
The changes in Gingrich's strategy and campaign staff were first reported by Politico.
The rollback in the campaign comes after Gingrich listed more than $1.5 million in outstanding debt by the end of February, according to Federal Election Commission filings, including legal fees and advertising production costs. At the same time, he had about $1.5 million cash on hand, the lowest of the four GOP candidates.
Campaigning Tuesday in Maryland, Gingrich conceded that he is strapped for campaign funds. "The money is very tight, obviously," he said. "That's why we're trying to raise more money."
Rick Santorum, Gingrich's rival for the anti-Romney vote among conservatives, responded to the news that Gingrich was scaling back his campaign by urging Republicans to back his effort, not Romney's.
"One of the things I was told very early on in presidential politics is that you run for president as long as the money hangs on," Santorum told reporters Tuesday night in Delavan Lake, Wis.
"I think it is time for all the Republican candidates to coalesce behind me," Santorum said. "You know, let's just have a conservative nominee to take on Barack Obama. Until that time happens, I'm not going to call on anyone to get out."
Hobbled by weak fundraising and well behind Romney in the hunt for delegates, Gingrich has been under growing pressure to help unify Republicans by dropping out of the race.
In a nod to those who think he should give way to Romney, Gingrich on Tuesday pledged to support his rival's bid if the former Massachusetts governor wins enough convention delegates to clinch the nomination by the end of the GOP primary season in June.
"Obviously I will support him and will be delighted to do anything I can to help defeat Barack Obama," Gingrich told reporters in Annapolis, Md. Republicans vote in the Maryland primary next week.
If Romney falls short, Gingrich said, "I think you'll then have one of the most interesting, open conventions in American history."
Gingrich tried to position himself as an antiestablishment figure in the race while playing up the 20 years he spent in the House, including a stint as speaker. He has struggled since his campaign peaked just before the Iowa caucuses kicked off the nominating process in January. Devastating attacks from Romney and a Romney-aligned super PAC have helped to deny him further victories.
Gingrich had hoped for a Southern-based comeback in the race, but Santorum won contests in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.
The former House speaker has won just two primaries, in South Carolina and Georgia, and has less than 15 percent of delegates so far.
Romney is the front-runner with 568 delegates, based on a tally by The Associated Press. That is slightly less than half the needed 1,144 delegates, and more than four times as many delegates as Gingrich, who has 135.
Associated Press writers Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md., Beth Fouhy in New York, Philip Elliott in Delavan Lake, Wis., and Jack Gillum in Washington contributed to this report.