Republican race faces possible shake-up after Gingrich withdrawal whispers

But the burial of Mr Gingrich may not be what Mr Romney wants. Had the speaker gone earlier, it is arguable that Mr Santorum would have taken states he lost to Romney by tiny margins, like Ohio and Michigan.

A last-minute cancellation of campaign appearances yesterday in Kansas, which has caucus voting Friday, sparked speculation that the Gingrich campaign was already winding down. More likely, it was a sign that he accepts that he has to focus on Mississippi and Alabama to avoid calamity there next week.

Austin Barbour, a Mississippi native and a member of the Romney national finance team, was among those saying Mr Gingrich would not make the grade next week in states that a while ago favoured him. “Newt is popular in Mississippi, and had Mississippi come right after South Carolina, no question he would’ve won, but it didn’t,” he said. “Now I think it’s a race where Santorum is probably the favourite.”