UPDATE 1-Staff quit because 'I'm different,' Gingrich says
* Staff exodus dogs U.S. Republican's bid for presidency
* Reagan won after his aides quit, Gingrich notes (Adds comments, disclosure on his jewelry spending)
By David Beasley
ATLANTA, June 22 (Reuters) - Republican U.S. presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Wednesday attributed the mass resignations among his campaign staff to the fact that he is "very different" from mainstream politicians.
"Philosophically, I am very different from normal politicians, and normal consultants found that very hard to deal with," Gingrich said in a speech to the Atlanta Press Club.
"We have big ideas. I just think that's part of how you campaign. You talk to the American people about big things."
Gingrich, a former history professor in Georgia, said 13 of Ronald Reagan's aides quit during his 1980 presidential primary campaign. Reagan went on to win the nomination and the U.S. presidency.
"If I had to choose Reaganomics or 13 staffers quitting, I think for the average working American, Reaganomics was a much better deal," Gingrich said, referring to Reagan's policy of cutting taxes and reducing government regulations.
Two of Gingrich's top fund-raising aides resigned on Tuesday. Sixteen other members of his team, including his campaign manager and his chief strategist, resigned on June 9.
A former aide said the differences mainly involved the staff view that Gingrich should campaign heavily in the early primary states and Gingrich's view that he should instead go on a Greek cruise with his wife.
Democrats snickered at the comparison to Reagan.
"Gingrich wants to emulate Reagan's 1980 campaign, only without staff, volunteers or money. That's cute! We wish him well and we earnestly hope that he is indeed the eventual GOP nominee for president next year," said Eric Gray, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia.
Since launching his 2012 presidential campaign in May, Gingrich has also angered his own party by criticizing a congressional Republican plan to scale back the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
Media reports have said his campaign is more than $1 million in debt.
MONEY BIGGEST CHALLENGE
Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said on Wednesday his campaign will be a "very grass roots oriented campaign based on the Internet. The biggest challenge, candidly, will be raising money."
Again, he mentioned the Reagan campaign of 1980 when a campaign bus broke down and staffers scrambled to raise $500 to fix it.
"I think we will have so many substantive ideas and such a fundamentally different approach to being positive and doing things the positive way that we will convince the American people that if you really want dramatic change in Washington, you had better have a candidate who knows how to change the city, which I think my record as speaker is pretty good on," Gingrich said.
Gingrich, 68, was the main architect of the 1994 election victory that gave Republicans control of both houses of Congress for the first time in decades. He also wrote the party's "Contract with America" political manifesto.
Among the ideas he proposed on Wednesday was auditing the Federal Reserve and cutting its power.
Merle Black, a political analyst at Emory University in Atlanta, said Gingrich seemed on the defensive and that by publicly mentioning his staff problems, he had diverted attention away from campaign issues.
"What he's telling the audience in effect is, 'I don't know what I'm doing' and very few people are willing to be associated with him in his effort,'" Black said. "It's very damaging."
The Washington Post, quoting Joe DeSantis, a spokesman for Gingrich, reported on Wednesday that Gingrich had recently held a second line of credit at Tiffany's jewelry store, valued at between $500,00 and $1 million. The account has a zero balance and has been closed, it quoted DeSantis as saying.
Last month, it was disclosed the Gingrich owed between $250,000 and $500,000 to the pricey jeweler in 2005 and 2006, when his wife, Callista, was working for the House Agriculture Committee.
Gingrich and his campaign said the debts are all paid off. But the disclosure seemed likely to complicate his efforts to connect with struggling voters in an election focused on unemployment and the U.S. economy. (Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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