(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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Perry will be missed, but I think Texas needs him as governor, as he has done a good job there.
That gives Newt a pivotal State which is good news. I don't want to see Romney get the nomination, but it really doesn't matter because no Republican can beat a socialist running in a socialist country.
I love Gingrich's job creation resume... "Back in the 70s I was part of Congress, and we passed some bills that may have created some jobs." Besides lobbying and infidelity, Newt, what else have you been up to since then?
Perry never had a chance and his support for Gingrich solidifies his thinking.
If nobody likes you, and nobody wants to hear from you or back you. Why does anyone care who you endorse? Why does that hold any weight? Clearly your not anyone's favorite source.
This is bad news. We can't risk Gingrich. He's a bad. bad man. I'm telling you now Conservatives, if you elect this guy, be prepared to reap what you sew.
Even the candidates don't have a clue what true conservatism looks like.
Just look at Ron Paul if you need a true and accurate vision of conservatism.
NO LOSS..THEY are both wastes of time anyway!!
We can all breathe a little easier now. But only a little.
Was anyone else hoping he would endorse Stephen Colbert?
Perry does what to Gingrich??? Sounds like Newt's ex didn't know the half of it....
Just made it worse for Gingrich.. But Palin will save the day for him... LMAO!!
What took him so long?
Where does he keep this 'heart of a conservative reformer'? In a jar on his mantle?
Just another in a long line of politicians who have no idea what the American people want. I think this country would be better served by electing an Average Joe President.
Wonder how he thinks about God lying to him?
Yesterday, Gingrich told Perry and Santorum to drop out of the race so Gingrich could have a better shot. Today Perry does just that, and now Gingrich is calling Perry his "friend". Politicians!
c'mon Santorum, drop out and support Newt!
This is great news & will make things much easier for President Obamo if the Newtster gets the GOP nod. 53-47 % at worst.
Great! one less of the Seven Dwarfs and he throws his support to an unelectable alternative. Go Obama Go. Remember who has been responsible for gridlock and kick out the republican extremists in your congressional and senatorial votes
just like in 08 the Neo-Cons crowd the field and then bow out endorsing one another .Ron Paul for Real CHANGE.. or better yet a RETURN to Greatness.
In addition to our economy turning around, this is more good news for President Obama. Now he won't have to spend as much money as he would have to fight Romney to get re-elected.
Yes Mr. Oops, go back to Texas. It seems they are the only one that will elect you.
And for his final stupid move . . . he backs Gingrich. At least Perry screws up consistently.