(Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recommitted to his promise that he would not mount an independent bid in the November 2016 election if he does not secure his party's nomination next year.
Asked during Tuesday night's CNN debate in Las Vegas if he was ready to reassure Republicans that he would not break his pledge to the Republican National Committee and launch a third-party candidacy, he said, "I really am. I'll be honest, I really am."
Trump has warned that he could renege on the promise if he felt the party's leadership had treated him unfairly. He raised eyebrows last week when he tweeted that 68 percent of his supporters would back him if he ran as an independent, according to a recent opinion poll. Party strategists fear that such a manoeuvre would split the Republican vote in November and effectively guarantee that the Democratic nominee wins.
But the real estate mogul doubled down on his promise on CNN following the debate, plugging his status as the longtime front runner.
"Number one, I'm in first place. Not by a little bit, by a lot," he said, calling himself the party's fair-haired boy.
"When they asked it, I did not hesitate. I decided to just say yes, I'm a Republican. And I'm going to be a Republican; I'm not going to be doing a third-party" run.
And despite his prior complaints that party leaders do not treat him fairly, he said during the debate that he has great respect for the people he has met during the campaign, including his competitors and the party's leaders.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that party leaders met to game out scenarios for a brokered convention in Cleveland in July in the event that no candidate wins the required number of delegates to clinch the nomination. Trump told the newspaper he was concerned that he would be at a disadvantage if a contested convention materialized.
The report also caused retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to suggest that he too would consider leaving the party and making an independent run. But Carson followed Trump's lead in the debate, saying Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus had assured him the party would not try to thwart the process.
(Reporting by Erin McPike; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)