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Gingrich drawing campaign to a close

Newt Gingrich began taking steps Wednesday to shut down his debt-laden White House bid, setting the stage to endorse one-time rival Mitt Romney next week and rally Republicans behind their apparent nominee.

Gingrich had a friendly telephone conversation Wednesday with Romney and had started planning an event where he would throw his support behind the likely nominee, Gingrich spokesman R.C Hammond said. The two agreed to work together to unite conservatives against President Obama.

"It's clear Romney is the nominee, and the focus should be on defeating Obama. We should not focus on defeating ourselves," Gingrich told disappointed supporters in Kings Mountain, N.C., the morning after Romney tightened his grip on the nomination by sweeping primary contests in five states, including New York.

Gingrich also telephoned Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and supporters, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in states with upcoming primaries to inform them of the decision he had been hinting at for days. His decision leaves only Ron Paul still in the race with Romney.

Gingrich had been under pressure for some time to clear a path for the former Massachusetts governor.

"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," he told supporters at a suburban Charlotte, N.C., restaurant.

Gingrich declined to comment when asked about his plans multiple times during the Kings Mountain stop.

"There are times when the mountain gets bigger than your ability to climb it," he said.

The White House acknowledged the contest had come down to Obama and Romney.

"There seems to be a general acknowledgment that the process has moved to that stage," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with the president.

As the White House ratchets up its focus on Romney, Gingrich will shift to helping Republican candidates across the country, paying off more than $4.3 million in campaign debt and rebuilding his reputation among conservatives.