(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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Now Santorum needs to drop and back Newt!
Didn't god endorse Perry?
So Perry is endorsing Gingrich? Well that means I won't be voting for Gingrich.
The clown should've dropped out a long time ago.
I can only assume that GOD was wrong, and it was NOT Perry's time.
In his infinite intellect Perry actually said he was supporting The Grinch and the media assumed he meant Newt.
Perry Blunders Again by endorsing Gingrich who was forced to resign as Speaker of the House when 84 ethics violations were brought against him. Gingrich plea bargained to a few of those 84 ethics violations if the others would be dropped. Gingrich was found guilty of ethics violations by a vote of 395-28. Tell me why anyone would want to put someone like that back into public office much less as President of the USA? Gingrich got Rich off of us taxpayers. He should be tarred and feathered – not elected. Gingrich is an unethical crook politician – keep him out of public office!
An endorsement from RP is like an endorsement from the dumbest kid in the class...how is that guy Governor of a state?
What, did God give him bad advice? And he's supporting Gingrich whose dedication to the institute of marriage includes two girls for every boy? All these Bible thumpers are grotesque. btw, I loved Perry's difficulty reciting all six of the United States he's visited while running for president.
WHO is PERFECT? Mitt Romney, the antiseptic Ken-doll Mormon billionaire country-club candidate from Massachusetts is perfect.
They should all quit and supply a whole new group of candidates. Our current runners are all quacks minus probably Ron Paul. This has become a Jersey Shore/Kardashians type of presidential race. Insulting....
These people are unbelievable. They spend months pounding each other, attacking each others' history, positions, ideas, and votes with invective, then turn around and completely reverse themselves with idiotic endorsements like this. So what they are telling us is that listening to debates and speeches isn;t worth the time because candidates don't believe a word of what they are saying, why should we? And it's all of the parties that show this contempt for the electorate. Here's a thought – next election day let's go to the voting booths, pretend to vote, then walk out, not recording a single vote for anyone.
Will this does just smell suspicous. Gingrich urges Perry and Santorum to drop out and then the next day Perry drops out. I wonder how much he was paid off for this to happen. Gingrich has absoultely no way of winning and his idea to take jobs away from hard working American citizens and give them to children is criminal and violates child labor laws. Children do not want to be known as the child that works as the school janitor. I urge you citizens of this country come to terms and think about who has the best ideas. Gingrich's baggage is way out of porportion. Romney invented Obama care. Santourm does not have the support. Paul may have a few odd ideas, but overall he has a fairly well disigned plan.
I've always maintained that Republicans use religion to convince enough of the people to back a candidate that really only supports the rich and powerful so that they can win elections. So, here we have Perry, a candidate that based his campaign in large part on being religious based social conservative, dropping out and ignoring the other "religious" candidate, Santorum, and supporting the guy with a demonstrate lack of morals, Gingrich. How is it that so many who actually believe in their religion fall for this kind of thing?
Well, this oughtta make things a bit tougher on Romney!
So what Perry' is actually saying is, "Hey, Newt, need a running mate?"
Cain/Perry 2016......Hey,comedians worldwide can dream can't they?
It was about time for Perry to give up. On the other hand, it's difficult to imagine that anybody with a remotely sound mind would vote for Gingrich, meaning that Romney will be the winner of that race.
Gingrich is no more a "bold Reagan conservative" than McCain was a "maverick." They're both middle of the road, big government, war mongering, neo-cons. Given the choice between Romney or Gingrich, I'd grudgingly vote for Romney. The only thing Gingrich has going for him is he's not Santorum. Gingrich, Santorum, Perry, and Bachmann have had me teetering on the edge of leaving the GOP for good. If expanding the government into every aspect of our daily lives, stripping away civil liberties, going to war at the drop of a hat (even when you're the one who dropped it), passing insurmountable debt on to our children, and pandering to religious extremists is considered conservative these days, count me out. The only notable difference between the modern GOP and the modern Dems is which group of zealots they pander to.
Sorry Perry. You cant have a job with Newt. Todd Palin already bought his wife a job with Newt when Todd said he was going to endorse Newt on Jan 9th.
Oh Please....keep Perry a little bit longer. We don't want him back in Texas!
All hat,no cattle Perry never had a hope in this race.His buffoonery made him a bit of a caricature in a race chock full of likened characters.Time to wipe of whatever it is clinging to your boot soles Rick and head back to Texas.
Texas has seven executions scheduled this winter.
Newt / Perry 2012
He mus really not want Romney to win. Dropping out two days before the SC primary and throwing his support to Gingrich. Perhaps he got a promise that he would be made the Secretary of "Oops".
"The Grinch" with all his baggage is supported by Perry as the latter waves goodbye. Typical....birds of a feather flock together. Perry was a sore loser and felt Mittens had trumped him. In reality, Perry was own worst enemy.