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Donald Trump endorses Mitt Romney during Las Vegas news conference

By Kasie Hunt

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 2 2012 2:20 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, flanked by Donald Trump, and Romney's wife Ann, speaks at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, where Trump endorses Romney.

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Donald Trump on Thursday announced his endorsement of Mitt Romney for president, saying the former Massachusetts governor is "not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country we all love."

The reality show host and real estate mogul appeared with Romney and his wife, Ann, at a packed news conference at the Las Vegas hotel that bears Trump's name.

Romney said he was honored to receive the endorsement, but hoped even more to win the endorsement of Nevada voters. The state holds presidential caucuses Saturday.

The endorsement came after a topsy-turvy set of events that suggested Trump might endorse Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich's camp had been so confident of winning the real estate mogul's backing that it had leaked word Trump would support the former House speaker.

Speaking with reporters before the announcement, Trump said he had several meetings with Romney during the past several months and that those meetings helped influence his decision about an endorsement.

He also cited Romney's debate performances and tough stance on China as reasons.

Trump, who publicly had expressed less-than-enthusiastic support for Romney, said his past comments were a reflection of not knowing the former Massachusetts governor very well.

"I never knew him. I knew of him and respected him, but I really got to know him over the past few months," Trump said. "I've had numerous meetings with him."

Gingrich's camp was so confident of Trump's endorsement that those close to the former House speaker confirmed it Wednesday night for news organizations, including the AP. One of those officials said Trump had "sent signals" to Gingrich that he would support him. That individual declined Thursday to elaborate on what those signals were.

On a tour of a Las Vegas manufacturing facility Thursday, Gingrich made clear he wasn't getting Trump's backing.

"No," the former House speaker replied when asked if he was expecting Trump's endorsement. He added that he was amazed at the attention Trump was getting.

The real estate mogul and reality TV show host is known for being unpredictable, and the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the planned endorsement almost seemed designed to gin up interest in the event.

Trump had mused as recently as last month about running for president as an independent and, in interviews, has suggested that he wasn't enthusiastic about Romney's candidacy.

In an interview with CNN last April, Trump dismissed Romney as a "small business guy" and suggested Bain Capital, the venture capital firm where Romney made his millions, had bankrupted companies and destroyed jobs.

"He'd buy companies, he'd close companies, he'd get rid of jobs," Trump said of Romney.

Romney has staked his candidacy on his credentials as a businessman and has pushed back at Gingrich and other rivals who have criticized Bain's practices.

Romney also turned down an invitation to participate in a presidential debate that Trump planned to moderate in Iowa in December. Trump canceled the debate after all the candidates except Gingrich and Santorum refused to participate.

Trump has played an unusually prominent role in the presidential contest since last spring, when he mused publicly about joining the Republican field. His blunt criticism of President Barack Obama and fierce warnings of a nation in decline resonated with tea party activists. At one point, polls showed him briefly surging to the top of the field.

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