ATLANTA (AP) — Newt Gingrich’s top two fundraising advisers resigned on Tuesday, and officials said the Republican candidate’s hobbling presidential campaign carried more than $1 million in debt.
The departures of fundraising director Jody Thomas and fundraising consultant Mary Heitman were the latest blow for the former House speaker who watched 16 top advisers abandon his campaign en masse earlier this month, partly because of what people familiar with the campaign spending described as a dire financial situation.
These people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the campaign’s inner workings, said the former Georgia lawmaker racked up massive travel bills but money had only trickled in since he got into the race earlier this spring.
These officials said that he is at least $1 million in debt. The current fundraising quarter ends June 30, and Gingrich will have to disclose his campaign finances by July 15. He is personally wealthy and could fund his campaign out of his own pocket, at least in the short term, to keep his campaign afloat.
Gingrich refused to discuss the latest defections Tuesday night, dismissing them as “campaign gossip” that’s being publicized to detract attention from his policy ideas.
“The whole point is nobody has a clue why they left,” Gingrich told reporters after speaking to a tea party group in Savannah. “Nobody has a clue whether they were failing to perform. Nobody knows anything except it’s gossip.”
He brushed off further questions about why the aides quit as well as about his campaign’s debt load.
“I’m happy to talk to you about public policy,” Gingrich said. “I’m not going to talk to you about campaign stuff.”
Gingrich has insisted that he will not abandon his troubled bid and will continue fighting for the Republican nomination for president “no matter what it takes.” He’s revamping his campaign, given the series of departures.
“Newt 2012 continues its reorganization and alignment as a grassroots driven, substantive, solutions-oriented campaign,” a spokesman, R.C. Hammond, told The Associated Press, adding that the campaign is “as committed as ever.”
He said aides and volunteers continue to raise money, despite the absences of Thomas and Heitman. Hammond refused to discuss details of the financial situation.
Heitman, a former fundraiser with the Republican National Committee, declined to comment. Thomas did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Underscoring the financial difficulties he faces, Gingrich has traded in private jets for commercial flights; on Tuesday, he was traveling commercially from Washington for an appearance in Georgia.
Troubles have plagued the Gingrich campaign since its formal launch just five weeks ago.
He drew fire from conservatives after an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which he likened a Republican budget plan that passed the House to “right-wing social engineering.”
Days of bad publicity followed revelations that he had a no-interest loan account at luxury jeweler Tiffany’s worth up to $500,000. And just as the GOP presidential race began to heat up, Gingrich disappeared on a luxury cruise in the Greek Isles with his wife, Callista.
Then, his top advisers walked on him.
He has refused to answer questions about his rocky rollout, his vacation to the Mediterranean or the exodus of his top staff from his headquarters near Atlanta and from the early nominating states.
“The last few weeks have been frankly very frustrating,” Gingrich told a crowd of 130 attending the tea party event in Savannah on Tuesday evening.
Chuck St. Arnaud, a 72-year-old retired Army general living in Savannah, came to hear Gingrich despite having concluded the former speaker no longer has a shot at being president.
He predicted Gingrich’s loss of his fundraising advisers would only further erode his support among Republicans.
“Money drives the train, man,” St. Arnaud said. “It puts him nowhere. He’s out.”
Jeffrey Albuna, a 21-year-old tennis instructor, insisted Gingrich still stands above his GOP rivals when it comes to ideas and the ability to convey them intelligently to voters.
“I feel like he hasn’t gotten a fair shake,” Albuna said. “If you were to put Newt and Obama in a debate, the winner would be Newt Gingrich.”
Since his campaign meltdown, Gingrich has largely kept a low profile, favoring messages on Twitter and television interviews to interacting with voters.
Gingrich planned to speak to the Atlanta Press Club for a speech on Wednesday. In a sign that others may be questioning the Gingrich campaign’s viability, Atlanta Press Club Executive Director Lauri Strauss said that a corporate sponsor had not stepped up to sponsor Gingrich’s speech, as is customary with most addresses before the group.
Gingrich is scheduled to headline a birthday celebration at his Atlanta campaign headquarters on Wednesday and then to appear at a hotel near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Thursday. Both are far from states that hold the first contests of the GOP nomination fight, Iowa and New Hampshire.
He is slated to return to Iowa this weekend.
Elliott reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., contributed to this report.