WASHINGTON Republican Chris Christie considered the future of his struggling U.S. presidential bid on Wednesday amid news reports he would suspend his campaign and narrow the field of rivals facing businessman Donald Trump.
A disappointing sixth-place finish in Tuesday's New Hampshire nominating contest raised doubts about the combative New Jersey governor's viability as a candidate for the Nov. 8 presidential election.
The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior adviser to the campaign as saying Christie was expected to make an announcement soon suspending his campaign. Other news organizations carried similar reports.
A spokeswoman for Christie's campaign said no decision had been made about whether he would stay in the race.
Christie's departure would leave eight Republicans from a field that once had 17 candidates vying to represent the party. Trump has dominated the Republican race and won the party primary in New Hampshire on a wave of voter anger at traditional U.S. politicians.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a democratic socialist, defeated former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the state's Democratic contest.
The results testified to the sizable share of American voters upset over the slow economic recovery, immigration and America's place in the world and willing to send a shockwave to Washington.
On Wednesday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said he understood the frustration and expected Republican voters to coalesce behind a candidate.
"I think it's pretty normal and I think it's pretty common and expect that sort of vein is going to play itself out for the next few months and you know we'll have a unified party when it's done," he told CNN in an interview.
Christie had poured much of his campaign's resources into New Hampshire and had considered a good showing there critical.
He canceled plans to go to South Carolina, a sign he could drop out soon. The southern state holds the next Republican primary on Feb. 20.
"No decision has been made," Christie spokeswoman Sam Smith wrote in an email to Reuters.
Trump's opponents, most of them mainstream Republicans, could benefit if Christie pulls out.
Ohio's Republican governor, John Kasich, finished second in New Hampshire, followed by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
TRUMP STAYING POWER
For Trump, New Hampshire showed he has staying power and can take a punch after losing last week to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in the first nominating contest, the Iowa caucuses. The former reality TV star's win showed pundits were wrong to think he would quickly self-destruct based on his penchant for insults and imprecise plans for the presidency.
Trump's odds for winning the White House, once seen as an extremely long shot, improved significantly after his victory in New Hampshire, online betting site Ladbrokes PLC LAD.L said.
The real estate tycoon is now at 9/2, compared to 7/1 last week, meaning that his chances of victory in November are now 18 percent. Clinton still had the best odds of becoming president at 50/50, Ladbrokes said.
On the Democratic side, Sanders courted the African-American vote on Wednesday, having breakfast with civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton at a restaurant in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. Clinton currently has strong support from African-American voters, who will be crucial in the Democratic primary in South Carolina on Feb. 27.
Sharpton and Barack Obama met at the same restaurant during Obama's successful 2008 presidential campaign - a piece of symbolism for Sanders as he tries to expand his appeal beyond liberals in the U.S. Northeast. November's election is followed by the inauguration of Obama's successor in early 2017.
“My concern is that in January of next year for the first time in American history a black family will be moving out of the White House," Sharpton, a Baptist minister and television talk-show host, told reporters afterward. "I do not want black concerns to be moved out with them. We must be front and center and not marginalized. And Senator Sanders coming here this morning further makes it clear that we will not be ignored."
POLICE SHOOTINGS DISCUSSED
Sharpton discussed a spate of police shootings of black males and other issues with the senator. Sharpton said he would not endorse a candidate until he met with Clinton.
Clinton consistently polls better among African-American voters and has a long history of support for civil rights. She also has benefited from husband Bill Clinton’s popularity in the black community during his presidency, although that became strained during her fierce 2008 primary battle with Obama.
Even before the exit polls on Tuesday showed Sanders had won New Hampshire, Clinton's campaign was trying to highlight her double-digit lead over Sanders among African-American and Latino voters.
"It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for a Democrat to win the nomination without strong levels of support among African-American and Hispanic voters," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a memo to reporters.
He predicted the Democratic race would be won in March, when the nominating contests quickly expand to 22 delegate-rich states with some of the largest minority and urban populations, and that Clinton would have the advantage.
(Writing by Alistair Bell; Additional reporting by Brendan McDermid, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Clarece Polke and John Whitesides; Editing by Howard Goller)
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