By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Newt Gingrich began taking steps Wednesday to shut down his debt-laden presidential bid, setting the stage to endorse one-time rival Mitt Romney next week and rally the GOP behind its apparent nominee.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said the former House speaker spoke with Romney on Wednesday and had started planning an event where he would throw his support behind the likely nominee.
Gingrich had pinned his hopes on a strong showing in Delaware that did not materialize after the polls closed Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, he acknowledged to North Carolina voters that his White House dreams were effectively over.
"Newt is committed to helping the party stop Barack Obama's second term," Hammond said. "He will do everything he can to make sure that happens."
For his part, Gingrich said he expects Romney will be the nominee and he called on the party to unite behind the former Massachusetts governor. At his appearance Wednesday, Gingrich stopped short of endorsing Romney and left his future unclear.
"You have to at some point be honest about what's happening in the real world as opposed to what you would like to have happened," Gingrich told supporters at a suburban Charlotte, N.C. restaurant the morning after Romney swept primary contests in five states.
"Gov. Romney had a very good day yesterday. You have to give him some credit. He's worked for six years. He put together a big machine ... I think I would obviously be a better candidate."
But Gingrich said GOP voters didn't agree, and that he would begin working to unite the party.
"I also think that it's very, very important that we be unified," he said. "No conservative anyplace in America should have any doubt about the importance of defeating Barack Obama."