Mitt Romney talks with people at a campaign event in Dubuque. (file photo)

Governor Terry Branstad publicly endorsed Mitt Romney’s bid for the White House — just before Romney rival Rick Santorum confirmed he is suspending his campaign

During an early afternoon news conference at the state capitol, Branstad said it’s time for Republicans to “coalesce” around Romney.

“We have four candidates that are still in the face, all of whom I have a lot of respect for, but it’s clear to me after watching all of the debates and all of the primaries — and especially after Illinois and Wisconsin — I think it’s clear that Romney has the momentum, that he’s going to be the nominee and there’s so much at stake,” Branstad told reporters.

AUDIO of 13-minute news conference.

Branstad suggested it’s time for Republicans to start focusing on the general election.

“There’s some good things about the Caucus and Primary process, but we’ve gone through a lot of them and I think a lot of people are starting to get, you know, they’re starting to get a little bit of primary fatigue,” Branstad said.

Branstad argued the Iowa Caucuses played their traditional role in the process, by winnowing the field and he notes the four remaining competitors in the race are the top four finishers in Iowa. Branstad’s counsel to Santorum, as well as Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul — both of whom still have active campaigns —  is to aim their fire at President Obama rather than Romney for the remainder of the primary season.

“It’s important that, as we go forward, we recognize the importance of showing our differences with the present administration and why we need a new direction,” Branstad said. “And I respect that all of them have some good ideas and I think they can all play an important role in helping us do that.”

Since 1984, a Republican candidate has carried Iowa in just one presidential election.

“I know we don’t have as many electoral votes as some other states,” Branstad said, “but I think we are one of the key swing states that’s going to decide this election and I believe we can carry this state and I want to do all I can to help Mitt Romney carry this state and help Republicans win back the White House.”

Branstad told reporters he is “not seeking anything” in return for his endorsement and Branstad downplayed the idea Romney might consider him as a vice presidential running mate.

(This story was updated at 1:53 p.m.)