NEW YORK - Newt Gingrich told Mitt Romney Wednesday morning that he would suspend his presidential campaign next week and begin working to turn out conservative voters for Romney and Republican candidates in the fall election, Gingrich’s spokesman said.
Gingrich plans to officially endorse Romney’s candidacy after suspending his own efforts next week, said R.C. Hammond. The spokesman said that Romney was “cordial and respectful’’ during the call and that Gingrich said he was “committed to helping him in the fall.’’
“A Republican turnout, especially among conservatives, is key to stopping an Obama second term,’’ Hammond said in a brief interview. “Victory only comes for Republicans with a strong conservative turnout in the fall.’’
At an appearance in North Carolina, Gingrich conceded that Mitt Romney would be the party’s nominee and suggested that he would leave the race in the next several days.
“I think you have to at some point be honest with what’s happening in the real world, as opposed to what you’d like to have happened,’’ Gingrich said, according to a brief report in The National Journal.
Gingrich had repeatedly said that he would press ahead to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, this summer, where he hoped that conservative delegates would give him - not Romney - the nomination.
Gingrich, a former House speaker, continued to sound that theme Tuesday night after Romney decisively won all five contests held Tuesday, in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. In a speech, he suggested that he would continue his campaign until the convention.
But in North Carolina Wednesday morning, Gingrich sounded more conciliatory and appeared ready to suggest that unity behind Romney’s candidacy was the most important consideration for Republicans.
“Govenor Romney had a very good day yesterday. He got 67 in one state, and he got 63 in another, 62 in another,’’ Gingrich said, referring to Romney’s winning percentages. “Now you have to give him some credit. I mean this guy’s worked six years, put together a big machine, and has put together a serious campaign.
“I think obviously that I would be a better candidate, but the objective fact is the voters didn’t think that. And I also think it’s very, very important that we be unified.’’
The National Journal reported that Gingrich told the audience in North Carolina that he would continue to be in the state “as a citizen’’ throughout the week. It is not clear what that means for his presidential campaign, which is more than $4 million in debt, according to reports filed recently with the Federal Election Commission.
But he also suggested that his campaign may be coming to an official close.
“We’re working out the details of our transition, and we’ll have information for the press in the next couple of days,’’ Gingrich said.
In addition to talking with Romney, Gingrich has had several conversations with Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, including a call Tuesday night.
Hammond said the discussions with Priebus have focused on “making sure there is a conservative platform at the convention.’’ He said that Gingrich’s support for the eventual nominee - in this case, Romney - was never in doubt.
“Whether or not he was going to get behind Romney was a settled question,’’ Hammond said, adding that long ago Gingrich, Romney, and Rick Santorum “made a pact that no matter what happened, each would support each other in the general election.’’
Hammond said Gingrich made no deals with Romney in exchange for dropping out of the race and had never asked Romney for help paying off his campaign debt.
“We take responsibility for all the debt obligations that we have,’’ Hammond said, adding that Gingrich planned to spend the coming months trying to raise money to pay off the debt. He said Gingrich told the staff not to even think about asking other candidates for help.
“It’s not something that we should be considering,’’ Hammond said, quoting Gingrich.