Bowing to the inevitable, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich signaled Wednesday that he will shut down his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, a day after presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney swept five more Republican primaries and party leaders began to close ranks around the former Massachusetts governor.
“It’s clear Romney is the nominee and the focus should be on defeating Obama. We should not focus on defeating ourselves,” the Georgia Republican told supporters in Kings Mountain, N.C. The two rivals spoke by phone on a day in which Mr. Romney won the open backing of the Republican National Committee.
The former Massachusetts governor’s latest string of primary election victories in Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New York on Tuesday gave Mr. Gingrich further evidence that Mr. Romney is all but certain to clinch the formal nomination at the party convention in August.
In an interview in St. Louis earlier this month, Mr. Gingrich, who engineered the historic GOP House takeover in the mid-1990s, pledged to keep up his campaign as long as possible. But he said he would aim his rhetorical fire at President Obama exclusively. Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney clashed at times on the campaign trail, with Mr. Gingrich complaining about negative ads run by the Romney camp.
Mr. Gingrich’s departure from the contest will leave only Texas Rep. Ron Paul still actively vying with Mr. Romney for the top spot on the GOP ticket. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, second to Mr. Romney in the official delegate count, suspended his campaign earlier this month.
The planned Gingrich departure opened the way for Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to hand to Mr. Romney the formal endorsement of the GOP’s national governing body, a gesture meant to signal Republicans it is time to unify behind Mr. Romney.
“Governor Romney’s strong performance and delegate count at this stage of the primary process has made him our party’s presumptive nominee,” Mr. Priebus said in a statement. “In order to maximize our efforts, I have directed my staff at the RNC to open lines of communication with the Romney campaign.”
The RNC announced that it would “synchronize” its finance, political and communications teams with the Romney team, and several top Romney aides have been tapped as liaisons between the candidate and the party headquarters. The RNC said the “integration of the two teams will allow the Romney campaign to take advantage of the RNC’s 15 battleground-state operations.”
Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades has named top aides to serve as liaisons to the national party. Romney senor adviser Brian Jones will be the chief link with the RNC and Romney spokesman Kevin Madden will oversee the communications teams. Ben Ginsberg, who was the 2008 Romney campaign national counsel, and Massachusetts RNC member Ron Kaufman will also help coordinate the RNC and Romney efforts.
Mr. Gingrich’s biggest financial backer in his 2012 campaign was gambling casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who shared Mr. Gingrich’s intense affection for Israel. Mr. Adelson and his family donated more than $11 million to the Gingrich campaign, which nonetheless is heavily in debt as Mr. Gingrich leaves the race.