Staten Island, New York (CNN) - As the GOP presidential race narrowed in the wake of Herman Cain suspending his campaign, Newt Gingrich was complimentary of his formal rival but reluctant to acknowledge it was now a two-man race between him and Mitt Romney.
Within hours of Cain’s announcement, the former House speaker praised the former pizza executive’s “9-9-9” tax plan as he appealed to tea party supporters at a town hall event and book signing in New York City’s most conservative borough.
“Whether you liked it or disliked it, it raised the general level of the discussion and got us to the right level of positive ideas in a way I thought really enriched the debate,” said Gingrich, speaking to reporters before the Staten Island Tea Party-sponsored town hall. “He will be a very active private citizen and will have an impact on the politics and the ideas of this country."
Cain said he plans on endorsing another candidate soon, but Gingrich, who is a personal friend, isn’t sure whom the former presidential hopeful will support.
“I don’t anticipate anything; Herman Cain’s got to make up his own mind,” said Gingrich, who said he spoke with the businessman Saturday before he announced his decision and said the pair plan to meet next week.
Gingrich, who has been rising in the polls and stands to benefit from Cain’s exit, wouldn’t say whether it is now a two-man race - a contrast from his comments earlier this week.
“I’m not going to say that any of my friends can’t surprise us,” said Gingrich, sizing up the remaining field. “This thing could have two or three more cycles between here and figuring out who’s actually in the final round, and I don't want to preclude any of them from having the opportunity to rebound just as in the end I was able to rebound.”