(CNN) – Texas Gov. Rick Perry suspended his struggling presidential campaign Thursday and threw his support to Newt Gingrich, a development that could alter the dynamics of the Republican race just two days before the tightening South Carolina primary.
"I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country. We've had our differences, which campaigns will inevitably have, and Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?" Perry said at a press conference in Charleston, South Carolina.
Tune in Thursday at 8 p.m. ET for the CNN/Southern Republican Presidential Debate hosted by John King and follow it on Twitter at #CNNDebate. For real-time coverage of the South Carolina primary, go to CNNPolitics.com or to the CNN apps or CNN mobile web site.
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Perry said "there is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign."
"I have no question that Newt Gingrich has the heart of a conservative reformer, the ability to rally and captivate the conservative movement. The courage to tell those Washington interests to take a hike if that's what's in the best interest of our country," Perry said.
Shortly after Perry's speech, the former House speaker said he was "honored and very humbled to have Perry's endorsement.
"He understands exactly the mission of defending and expanding freedom and he understands that every citizen has different ways to participate," Gingrich said at a press conference in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Perry made the final decision Wednesday night and spoke with Gingrich on the phone shortly before he held the press conference Thursday morning, one source close to the Perry campaign said.
"He believes we need a conservative for president and Mitt Romney is not conservative," the source said.
Speaking to reporters Thursday after the announcement, Perry's spokesman Ray Sullivan said the governor will return to Austin and remain there through the weekend. While there are no plans for Perry to campaign for Gingrich at this time, he said those plans will be re-evaluated after Saturday's South Carolina primary.
Asked if Perry's wife, Anita, agreed with the governor's decision, Sullivan said the family is all "supportive."
The move comes two days before the South Carolina primary and hours before the final debate ahead of the voting, which will take place on CNN Thursday night.
The campaigns of Gingrich and Rick Santorum reached out to the Perry campaign Thursday morning in an "aggressive effort" to get his endorsement, according to a source close to Perry.
Perry placed fifth in Iowa and last in New Hampshire - a state in which he did not actively compete - and had said he would launch a bid to win in South Carolina.
"South Carolinians are looking for a conservative candidate that will get this country back working again and I am it," Perry told CNN last week.
On Wednesday, CNN asked Perry about a poll that showed him with only 6% support among likely voters in the South Carolina primary. He insisted he was continuing with the effort to have a strong showing in the state.
"We're convinced that that's our goal, so the idea that we're going to do anything else, other than try to impact this election is - that's why we got in it," he said. "We didn't get in it because it was our purpose in life to be the president of the United States. We did it because it was our purpose to serve this country, and that's what we've been called for, and that's what we're going to continue doing."
When Perry entered the race in August, he immediately did well in the polls. But a series of gaffes, particularly at debates against his rivals, sent his support plummeting.
On Thursday, his campaign website continued to say "help Rick Perry win South Carolina and get America back on track."
Perry's official campaign Facebook page was filled with posts, largely from disappointed voters.
– CNN's Dana Bash, Mark Preston, Josh Levs and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.
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I also wonder what those Republican ladies will think when they hear about Newt's request for an "open marriage?" Someone forgot to tell Rick Perry.
another reason not to vote for the snake or lizard or newt or whatever....
I'm glad this nut is out of the race. It kills me that they all pick, jab and drag each other through the mud and then, when they quit, endorse one of them. Hilarious. I hope the other camp is taking notes on what to hit them on.
Oh what fun the late night shows and SNL will have with these candidates. Especially the Newt.
The brain dead fool from Texas, Perry, tucks his tail and runs in shame passing his very minimal support to the even more brain dead fool from Georgia, Gingrich, all in a brainless attempt to derail the most brain dead of all, the fool from Massachusetts, Romney. With clowns of this sort combined with the totally brain dead witch of Wasilla, Palin, I ask you, how can one party have so many brain dead fools and still be considered by anyone as a viable political party? Only the brain dead masses of the kindergarten drop ots of the totally failed party oof fools, the Republicans. The whole world watches and laughs till they fall over from seeing these clowns in action.
Perry was the very picture of republican willful ignorance. People with half a brain watched in stunned disbelief as actual human beings that could walk upright said this moron was a legitimate candidate. I don't care how arrogant it sounds to say these things, it's not wrong. He was nice. He seemed a good man. But he was a 486 processor in a 4G world. And if you don't get that joke, you probably voted for Rick Perry.
Rick Perry had no business even to enter the run for President. The man Brain be fry a long time ago. And his Endorsement don't mean Crap. I really feel sorry for the People of Texas , but than again they was dumb enough to elected him has GOV and more than Once. No wonder most of there JOBS are for MIN. wage.