Reuter – By Sam Youngman and Ros Krasny
PANAMA CITY/ORLANDO, Florida – Republican U.S. presidential candidate Newt Gingrich received the endorsement of former rival Herman Cain on Saturday and vowed to fight until the end no matter what happens in Florida’s upcoming primary vote.
Cain, who ended his presidential campaign in December under the weight of sexual harassment allegations, made the endorsement at an event with Gingrich in West Palm Beach. It is unclear how much impact it will have for Gingrich in Florida, which has been trending toward rival Mitt Romney ahead of the state’s vote on Tuesday.
“I hereby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich for president of the United States,” Cain said.
Romney, already confident after strong performances in two Florida debates, is gaining ground over Gingrich for the nomination to take on Democratic President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election.
Cain said Gingrich has been going through a “sausage grinder” in his battle for the Republican nomination.
The former pizza magnate has been seeking to remain in the public eye after his presidential drive stalled out. Recently he had declared he would endorse “the people.” Both Cain and Gingrich are from Georgia.
Just three days ahead of a pivotal primary race that could determine who has the momentum to win the Republican state-by-state nominating battle, Gingrich and Romney spent the day traveling around Florida in a search for undecided voters.
A Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Saturday showed Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and off-and-on Republican front-runner, with an 11 percentage point lead over Gingrich, up from 8 points a day earlier.
Romney drew support of 43 percent of likely voters in Florida’s Jan. 31 primary and Gingrich 32 percent. That compared with a 41 percent to 33 percent showing in the online tracking poll on Friday.
‘ALL THE WAY TO THE CONVENTION’
Gingrich, stung by what he considers unfair attacks from Romney, told reporters in Port St. Lucie that no matter the outcome on Tuesday in Florida, he will keep battling until Republicans formally nominate their candidate at a convention in Tampa in late August.
“I will go all the way to the convention. I expect to win the nomination,” he said. “You just had two national polls that show me ahead. Why don’t you ask Governor Romney what he will do if he loses since he is behind in both national polls?”
Gingrich’s vow appeared aimed at reassuring his supporters that he will not buckle if he loses Florida. If he were to follow through with his threat, it would guarantee a months-long, divisive fight at a time when party leaders will want unity in order to focus on Obama.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, running behind Romney and Gingrich, canceled campaign events in Florida for Sunday morning after his 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, was admitted to hospital in Philadelphia.
Santorum intends to return to Florida and resume his campaign schedule as soon as possible, spokesman Hogan Gidley said.
Romney needs a victory on Tuesday to regain his footing after losing badly to Gingrich in the South Carolina primary last weekend, the third nominating contest. Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, needs a Florida win to solidify the front-runner mantle he took on after his South Carolina victory.
“If we win Florida, I will be the nominee,” Gingrich declared at a golf facility in Port St. Lucie.
Romney has gained momentum in recent days, however, and the former private-equity executive used that and his financial muscle to draw up a closing argument that Gingrich’s behavior in Congress made him unfit to be the Republican Party’s leader.