(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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@ Texas Doc: "Newt might have baggage, but at least he's a Christian."
You are kidding right? One of the 10 commandments says "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Newt just pretends to be a Christian, which is worse than being a non-believer according to the scriptures. Newt just cares about himself and his big ego and nothing else.
Nice result for the Dems.
"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."
So... you just wanted all those donations into your campaign for what exactly? I suppose the only word that would sum this up is “oops”.
Perry never would have made it. He was too dumb to put it nicely. Gingrich needs all the support that he could get. I don't know how much help this would actually be though. I wonder if any people would move from Perry to Paul since they are both from Texas.
He endorses Newt? An idiot until the end.
As one of the losers shouldn't he throw his support to the one he wants to lose.
Thank you Perry! This is a step in the right direction! The people of America aren't dumb enough to vote for Romney! By giving Newt a hand to his eventual nomination as the Republican candidate, you are leading us to the election of the best candidate... OBAMA!
"I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country...."
That's what bothers me. None of the current crop of wanna be's has a clearly defined road map for achieving anything. Long on promises, short on substance.
I heard rick perry wanted to support Ron Paul, but Ron Paul said "No thanks, you'd do more harm than good"
Then he took an arrow in the knee.
There never was a path forward, Rick. And unless you get a brain transplant between now and 2016, don't go thinking you'll be viable then either. You're not presidential material. You're not even Texas governor material, you've just been lucky that the Texas governor really doesn't have to do anything but swagger – and that's the one thing you are good at.
I often wonder if they GOP candidates ever realize how big a bunch of fools they look like. They all act like children and name call and cheap shot each other in speeches, ads and in the debates, then they turn around and endorse they very person just weeks ago they were bad mouthing. It really looks phony.
Perry will be missed, but I think Texas needs him as governor, as he has done a good job there."
Pam, just so that you know, the Governor of Texas is NOT a powerful office. It is intentionally a very weak office that serves mainly as cheerleader (which Rick Perry was at Texas A&M) and public relations guy. His debate performance was anything but good PR for Texas. The two most powerful positions in Texas are the Texas Railroad Commissioner, who oversees oil and gas revenues, and the Lieutenant Governor, who is the head of the Texas Senate. The Governor ranks somewhere lower than dogcatcher in terms of power, but he does have the ability to pardon felons, as Haley Barbour recently did in Mississippi.
There is nothing good that Perry has done for Texas. The guy even made W look almost intelligent by comparison. We were hoping that the GOP would keep him distracted and out-of-state for a few more months, but like Sarah Palin, he quit when the going got rough. Not even the sheeple of the GOP supported this clown's message.
His endorsement of Gingrich only proves how dumb he is. Almost any Democrat could be Gingrich, and if Gingrich were to ask Perry to be VP, and Sarah Palin to Be Sec of State, almost any living 35 years old born here could be them. It seems the Republicans want to force Obama to win!
Who else is Perry going to endorse but Newt the two of them share the same narrow minded view of America and it's poor, beside between the 2 of them you still would not come up with ONE brain.
"........Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?"
A great endorsement from Perry. Sounds like it could be the ultimate campaign slogan.
VOTE GINGRICH! NEWT IS NOT PERFECT, BUT WHO AMONG US IS? I'm Newt Gingrich and I approve of this slogan.
Well, that sinks Grinch's campaign.
So let's look back on all the Republican hopefuls:
I am sure the three extra votes will help Gingrich.
One politician nobody wants supporting another politician nobody wants.
If you want someone to out debate Obama Newt might be it. The Dems are going to have a field day with negative attacks on a man that HAS no character and can`t keep his word. Ask his two ex wives.
Hmmmm I wonder if was pressured by the state dept. to drop because of his comment about Turkey being a terrorist country that country has been our allie for years. And he didn't apologize for saying it was and stood by his comment to!!
DC said: "An endorsement from RP is like an endorsement from the dumbest kid in the class...how is that guy Governor of a state?"
You have to ask? Consider the guv Illinois elected. Heck, what about #43?
Well old Rick just gave Newt the kiss of death!!!!
Wow. I'm really surprised. I thought sure he would hang around until after the voting in SC. Guess the word on the ground was not good. Of course, you knew he would have to endorse Gingrich or Santorum.
The majority of Americans DO NOT WANT A "CONSERVATIVE".
Why is this so hard for much of the GOP to grasp? Gingrich even said that Obama would defeat Romney because Romney is too moderate. WRONG. Romney would lose because he's not moderate enough (he almost was at one point, but he has flip-flopped his entire philosophy).