(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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Why can't all these Christian's just mingle, you know, God's match for a Republican candidate ?
Nobody ordered a Bush Lite©.
Another divine prompted presidential candidate drops out; firstly it was 999 Herman Cain, Bachmann, and now Perry. Now the truthful spiritual law behind their candidacy if that's divine calling, then it's about being revealed publicly as who they are inside their closet. Interesting isn't it? Huntsman did not receive divine calling, hmmm.
Rick Perry: I put on my big boy pants. But they were really baggy. I'm not ready.
Obama: "Oh boy. Where is my popcorn?".
That's a relief! Now we just hope that his endorsement is the political poison that kills the Gingrich campaign.
"conservative visionary" is an OXYMORON!
Well, I wouldn't vote for Gingrich before and I definitely won't vote for him now! I'm just glad Perry finally realized what a joke he is. I do feel bad for Texans though. Yall are still stuck with him...
Perry is praying for a Gingrich "open" administration, where Perry can find a job doing something, anything; that doesn't involve remembering more than two things.
And then there were four.
I'm glad this idiot is no longer trying to ruin the rest of the country like he did Texas.
This is like a game of musical chairs. It doesn't matter who is left with the last seat. People, remember this. It's one thing to campaign. It's another to actually sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, with access to the "Black Box"-with the power to push the button, knowing all the secrets of the nation, sometimes not knowing who your friends are, trying to represent over 300 million "squabbling children" which we have become. Think carefully before you vote.
Newt is not conservative – just a pretender, so is Mitt.
Tired of wars?
Want REAL free market?
– vote Ron Paul 2012
Breaking News: I am a lying politician and I endorse another lying politician.
And the 2012 GOP Gong Show loses another contestant. But he won't go away empty handed. Mr. Perry will enjoy a year's supply of Rice-a-roni – The San Francisco treat, a home version of our gameshow, lifetime top of the line medical insurance, a huge mansion, a ridiculous lifetime pension, and complete amnesty for all of the bullsh*t and lies he spewed on our show. Thanks for playing!
If Gingrich ends up running, I'll vote democrat, and so will many others.
i can't vote for newt anymore, especially after Perry and Palin endorse him. this is not looking good for newt anymore.
Woman In California
I love your posts but this one just made me sick to my stomach. It's early here in California.
My apologies , theres enough sickness going around.
I'm still waiting for a full moon and someone worth voting for.
Anita is certainly happy about not having to go camp out at Bob Jones University to campaign. I think I'd quit too, if I had to do that.
Establishment support for Gingrich & Romney proves the suicidal nature of the GOP. The Republican Party has set itself on course to go the way of the Whig Party. Absent a Ron Paul nomination the GOP is finished.
I love it. They're going nuclear on each other. Now there are 4 left standing. How many will be left after S. Carolina?
They may all hang in there, but somebody's going to be wounded. Romney has the most to lose, and it looks like he may be tarnished. Could come down to Gingrich and Romney. Neither can win a general election.
So, it would appear Governor that your interference in the Wellingham inquiry was all for nothing!
Now, go back to Texas and crawl back under that rock from which you came!
Goodbye and good riddance.
Another one bites the dust.
So "family values" voters are supporting Gingrich? They have lost all credibility. So Newt does great in debates by throwing around the red meat. Don't be stupid, S Carolinians. He cannot win moderates that way and he can't beat Obama. Newt is a loose cannon. Have you already forgotten his attacks against capitalism just last week? Romney is the only one who can get enough independents to beat Obama. No candidate is perfect but Romney is the only turn-a-round guy and if he likes to fire people he can start with our bloated federal government.