(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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Guess he didn't pray hard enough and God didn't really want him to run after all...
I wonder what those Republican ladies will think when they hear about Newt's request for an "open marriage?" Someone forgot to tell Rick Perry.
Good! Let him come back to Texas and continue the job of ruining the Texas government.
What a joke–he shoots his one foot about Palin, then Perry shoots his other. . .
I wish Mitt and Newt would drop out too. They are both so arrogant and we don't need another arrogant president.
Barry Goldwater must be turning over in his grave seeing the GOP candidates for President!
The more he speaks, the dumber he looks.
Dang! I guess this means we Texans get him back. Double dang!!
God took it back.
God if there is a God, probably died of a stroke on the possibility that Rick Perry was running for President. Its shocking that anyone with half a brain in Texas voted for this moron. He embarrassed himself and Texas. He actually has a degree from an accredited university in Texas? They should be ashamed! And lose their accreditation if they actually were accredited. Perry went to Texas A&M? Well that explains it. All the Aggie jokes must be true.
So who's left?
Romney, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum
The flipper, the cheat, the lunatic, and the false prophet, not necessarily in that order.
Where is Sarah Palin, the Geo-Bee winner, when we need her?
Oh Gov. Goodhair...we hardly knew ye (...or perhaps we did.) Goodbye.
Rick Perry was the Al Bundy of the Republican Tea Party, but without Bundy's charm and intelligence.
I feel so sorry for the people of Texas, but as they say, "Right back at ya!"
The heart of a conservative reformer and the morals of an alley cat.
Newt's Kiss of Death. Thanks, Rick.
Sorry for the people of Minnesota and Texas! Their best candidates are not even being considered by the American people. It must feel real bad to be them!
Ricky is a very modest man, with a lot to be modest about.
Glad to see Perry go! completely unelectable. All hat/no cattle.
Although I wouldn't have voted for him, Rick is a decent and honest man. What I want to know is, why must candidates who withdraw from the race, feel they have to endorse someone? Can't understand that.
Newt might have baggage, but at least he's a Christian.
God Bless America.......
newt is on a rise
I thought God told Rick and Michelle to run for president. Is God a flip -flopper? You betcha!
I guess God really did not want Perry to run for President. In Fact, I think God "punked both Perry and Bachman and eventuly Santorum. lol
One has to wonder what Gingrich promised Perry for his endorsement...a cabinet post, an ambassadorship or maybe our representative to the UN??? I shudder to think about it...
bye bye Rickie! laffing at rethugs!!! hahahahaha