2012 ELECTION

Donald Trump endorses Mitt Romney

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LAS VEGAS (AP/ABC7) - Donald Trump confirmed Thursday afternoon that he will endorse Mitt Romney for GOP presidential nomination, despite speculation that his endorsement would be for Newt Gingrich.

Donald Trump (Photo: Associated Press)

Trump plans to make the announcement Thursday afternoon at his casino hotel in Las Vegas.

The surprise development comes even though Newt Gingrich had informed close advisers Wednesday night that he had expected to win the real estate developer's support.

Romney scored a decisive victory over Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul in the Florida primary, just days after Gingrich routed the field in South Carolina.

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.

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