– The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – 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 pair agreed to work together to unite conservatives against President Barack 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 swept primary contests in five states.