Romney campaigns, Gingrich drops out, in Northern Virginia

(AP/ABC7) - Kicking off his Virginia campaign, Republican Mitt Romney said Wednesday he'll do "the opposite" of what President Barack Obama has done to help the economy.

His wife, Ann, chipped in by appealing to women voters in a key region of a state both candidates will fight over until November's election.

"What I would do? People ask me, 'What would you to get the economy going'? and I say, 'well look at what the president's done, and do the opposite,'" Romney told a group gathered at a warehouse in Northern Virginia.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich, the colorful former House speaker and fiery partisan, formally exited the Republican presidential contest Wednesday and vowed to help Mitt Romney's bid to defeat President Barack Obama.

Ending a campaign that seesawed between implosion and frontrunner and back again, Gingrich threw his support to his one-time rival as expected and promised his supporters he would continue to push conservative ideas. Gingrich bowed out of the race more than $4 million in debt and his reputation perhaps damaged.

"Today, I am suspending the campaign. But suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship," Gingrich told a hotel ballroom in suburban Washington.

"We are now going to put down the role of candidate and candidate's spouse and take back the role of active citizens," he said, adding he would continue to promote conservative ideas on college campuses, as well as through newsletters and films.

He also urged conservatives to rally behind Romney as a better alternative than Obama.

"This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical, leftist president in American history," Gingrich said.

Romney the frontrunner

Romney was in the Washington area to raise money and hold a series of meetings at the Republican National Committee, where he's working to integrate his campaign with the national party apparatus.

He planned a meeting Wednesday with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. The Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington are a region of a key swing state that will be critical for Romney.

Obama won Virginia in 2008 after back-to-back Republican victories by George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Romney aides say driving up Republican turnout in this area of the state could make a difference for the former Massachusetts governor.

After several days of campaigning marked by the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, Romney's campaign returned Wednesday to familiar themes of the economy and jobs.

He painted small businesses as heroes of the economy and said legislation Obama signed to regulate the banking industry has ended up hurting smaller institutions.

"They've gotten bigger; and the small community banks are the ones that have been most hurt," Romney said.

Ann Romney introduced her husband with an appeal to the women in the audience.

"We appreciate all these women being here," she said, noting that Exhibit Edge, the company where the event was held, is run by a woman. "We know what women can do ... how women actually do make the world go round."

Polls have shown Romney trailing Obama by a significant margin among women voters.

As his wife appealed to women, the candidate made a plea for voters to put aside identity politics, saying he has visions of "people coming together in America, of people putting aside differences, putting aside ethnicity, race, gender, just coming together and saying we stand as Americans."

Romney also planned to attend an evening fundraiser in Arlington.

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