While Newt Gingrich is not officially dropping his presidential bid, the former House speaker indicated Sunday he would be willing to step aside for the Mitt Romney campaign if doing so helped ensure a Republican victory over President Obama.
"I hit [Mr. Romney] as hard as I could," Mr. Gingrich told "Fox News Sunday." "He hit me as hard as he could. Turns out he had more things to hit with."
Mr. Romney, with 660 delegates according to the Associated Press count, is running far ahead of GOP rivals Rick Santorum, who has 281; Mr. Gingrich, who has 135; and Ron Paul, who has 51, in the race to the 1,144 needed to sew up the nomination.
With five more states — Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — holding primaries on April 24, Mr. Romney is leading the latest RealClearPolitics national poll with the support of 37.7 percent of Republican voters, compared with Mr. Santorum's 28 percent and Mr. Gingrich's 14.2 percent.
"Well, I think you have to be realistic, given the size of his organization, given the number of primaries he's won," Mr. Gingrich conceded. "He is far and away the most likely Republican nominee. And if he does get to 1,144 delegates, I'll support him. I'll do everything I can this fall to help him defeat Obama."
Mr. Gingrich said he would be happy taking a position with the Republican National Committee this fall to help lead GOP efforts to deny Mr. Obama a second term.
Mr. Gingrich's comments come just a week after he dramatically scaled back his campaign staff and schedule, because he is running out of money. In late March, he cut about one-third of his staff, including campaign manager Michael Krull, to turn his focus to social media outreach. Mr. Gingrich said his campaign is about $4.5 million in debt, and he's operating on a shoestring budget.
But he isn't giving up just yet. He said his campaign is focused on winning upcoming contests in Delaware on April 24 and in North Carolina on May 8.
"We've had a great response in Delaware, which is a state you can operate inexpensively," he said. "We've had a great response in North Carolina. We'll see what happens in those states."
While the former Georgia congressman hit the airwaves Sunday, Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum took time off the campaign trail for Easter and family, with Mr. Santorum returning again to the side of his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who is hospitalized for the second time this year.
"Senator Santorum will not hold any campaign-related events on Monday so that he and [wife] Karen can remain in the hospital with their daughter Bella," campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.
But when asked about dropping out of the race, his campaign denied any plans to do so.
"Of course not — no," Mr. Gidley told CBS News. "We'll be up soon," he said.
Mr. Santorum plans to pick up again on Tuesday with two events in his home state of Pennsylvania. Then, on Friday, he will travel to St. Louis to attend the National Rifle Association convention.
The former senator holds a four-point poll lead over Mr. Romney in Pennsylvania at 42 percent to 38 percent, but is being met with stiff opposition from the Romney campaign, which plans to air a $2.9 million advertising campaign there beginning Monday.
Mr. Romney also seems to be turning his attention to Mr. Obama, accusing the president last week of running a "hide-and-seek" re-election campaign before a group of newspaper editors and publishers.
"He does not want to share his real plans before the election, either with the public or with the press," Mr. Romney said. "By flexibility, he means that what the American public doesn't know won't hurt him. He is intent on hiding. You and I will have to do the seeking."
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