By BRIAN WITTE
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Under pressure to help unify his party, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich pledged Tuesday to support Mitt Romney if the former Massachusetts governor wins enough convention delegates to clinch the nomination by the end of the GOP primary season in June.
If Romney falls short, "I think you'll then have one of the most interesting, open conventions in American history," the former House speaker said as he campaigned for votes in next week's Maryland primary.
Gingrich is short on funds, and his hopes for a Southern-based comeback in the race were all but extinguished by rival Rick Santorum's recent victories in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Even so, he has insisted he plans to campaign actively into the party convention, which begins on Aug. 27 in Tampa, Fla.
He signaled his change in remarks to reporters. If Romney gets the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination by the time of the Utah primary on June 26, Gingrich said, "obviously I will support him and will be delighted to do anything I can to help defeat Barack Obama."
Gingrich and Santorum have both come under increased pressure from some Republicans in recent weeks to swing behind Romney, who is on track to pick a majority of delegates before the primaries end with the vote in Utah.
Gingrich has tried to position himself as an anti-establishment figure in the race, and has bristled at the devastating attacks that Romney and a Romney-aligned super political action committee unleashed at him at key moments in the campaign.
Yet as a former House speaker, he is also aware of the importance of party unity as the general election campaign comes into view.
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.
Gingrich conceded he is strapped for campaign funds.
"The money is very tight, obviously," he said. "That's why we're trying to raise more money."
Gingrich has struggled since his campaign peaked just before the Iowa caucuses kicked off the nominating process in January. He has won just two contests — in South Carolina and his Georgia home state.
His campaign 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, Gingrich had about $1.5 million cash on hand — the lowest of the four GOP candidates.
Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin, has drawn unusual attention from the from the GOP presidential candidates. The state has 37 delegates at stake in its primary next Tuesday.
Romney campaigned in Maryland last week. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the fourth Republican in the race, has scheduled an event at the University of Maryland on Wednesday.
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Associated Press writer Jack Gillum in Washington contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)