(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.
Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @politicalticker
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.
FIRST ON CNN: Perry dropping out of GOP race
Polls: South Carolina primary tightening hours before crucial debate
Gingrich as compares Romney's 'desperate' attacks to 2008 campaign
Romney the establishment, Santorum the 'rebel,' ad says
Good job! That should keep the race competitive. Stock up on popcorn!
They really don't like you Willard!!! They're going to gang up on you now. Your not true blood republican.
Gov. Rick Perry is ALREADY a winner and will always be a winner.
alrightly then!!!! Game on.
Perry has supporters??? After all of his screw ups??? Very surprising.
So one idiot endorses another. I didn't see that coming...
Romney is the worst candidate ever! Glad he did NOT get Perry's endorsement!!!!
Hit the road jack and dont you come back no more no more no more.
If I were Perry, I would support Santorum. If it were a Republican, I would support Gingrich. If it were me, I would put the whole lot of them onto bus and send them on their merry way.
At least McCain knows the newter is truely dangerous for this country.. There will be more gridlock, and the same old grind in D.C. the newter is an old re-tread. We are getting a new scoop each hour, Rick Perry out, Sanitarium won Iowa, now the Newter as a swinger with Calistas permission and not the wife, that will air tonight on ABC. What will the christain values folks think or say? This is very revealing. This really works well with the religious conservtative base.
Good for you governor – I wouldn't endorse that con artist Romney either.
What the heck is a conservative reformer? Sounds like an oxymoron.
What is a conservative reformer? Sounds like an oxymor0n.
Wait until you see Romeny's tax returns – he will blow you away – he is not part of the 1% he is part of THE .3 %
WE HAVE HIS FINANCIAL PAPERS IN CANADA
AND THIS IS THE PERSON WHO IS TO REPRESENT THE AVERAGE AMERICAN????????
good bless Amercia – they are going to need all the help they can get
Texas two step back to Texas you jerk! and stay there.
This is getting to be a real joke. No one wants Mitt but can't find anyone else either. This could go on forever. Which is ok maybe the more people that see these nut jobs will realize we have an adult in the whitehouse and he is trying to fix the economy while these clowns bash each other. Obama?Biden 2012
Gingrich is what is wrong with Government. People like him create a bad government. He will never win anyways.... I promise you that.
Rick Perry drops off... As shocking as Paula Dean has Diabetes.
Who would want Perry's backing?! Glad it went to GinGrinch.
His support? All 2%?
Governor Perry, we will greatly miss you !! You STILL have be BEST RECORD of all the candidates. Endorsing Gingrich is the best anti Romney choice. May God continue to bless you and your family !!
thank god he dropped out!!!! he was making texas look bad
Good for Romney ....bad for Newt....Well written speech by Perry s secretary....I am going to miss him saying OOPS.
another one bites the dust!
Why do losers quit and then support someone they were against?