(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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Opps....I am sure his getting out had nothing to do with is missteps or his statement that said our ally was a terrorist country. Glad your gone Rick, do you really think people care who you of all people whish to endorse? The fact that you endorse them would be a good reason not to vote for them.
“There is forgiveness for those who seek God, and I believe in the power of redemption.”... Except for Mormons. Let's be clear here Perry, this is what you really wanted to say.
he should have wiothdrawn months ago, not fit for the job neither is newt
With Palin and Perry in his corner, Newt will be unstoppable…on his way to dropping out….in about 3 days.
Thanks Perry, now "anyone but Romney" may have a better chance.
Lol endorsed by Perry. Thats about as good as being endorsed by a horse.
Thank goodness. One by one the scary crazy ones are dropping out. Perry or Bachman or Cain each tried to out do the others in craziness and the prospect of any of them becoming president frightened me. Santorum's mixture of policy and fundamentalist religion scares me too - a lot more than any Mormon would. Newt or Miitt won't get my vote, but at least I am not frightened by them.
Perry is endorsing Gingrich because Gringrich cannot win the Presidency. Perry plans to run again at the next Presidential elections. He cannot do this if either Romney or Santorum are in the White House. He is throwing his support to the one canidate who he knows the american people want elect while also allowing him to strengthen his conservative image. If the Republicans win the Presidency, Perry will not be happy!
Tawd Palins endorsement will get Newt more votes than Pastor Perry
But was Newt also a supporter of health care mandates way back when...????
what happened...thought God wanted Perry to run. Did God chicken out?
Too dumb to run...
That hurt his pride now didn't it. well at least he didn't have to spend too much time on sending his supporters away. ( fric, you go stand over there and frac, you stand over there. OK newt heres my two supporters.
A real Vet endorses a draft dodger sad state of affairs..
Can't wait to see the ex-Mrs. Gingrich TELL IT LIKE IT IS – Newt is a pasty pig; a bully; a cheater; a liar; a hypocrite; a grotesque excuse for a supposedly "upstanding" person. If he's going to try and limit the rights and freedoms of others on his false morality then he'd best NOT HAVE AFFAIRS, ASK FOR OPEN RELATIONSHIPS; LIE; CHEAT; and then turn around and tell the rest of us we're immoral. Not a chance. NEWT. YOU ARE THE WORST EXCUSE FOR A MAN. SHAMEFUL.
Ron Paul for 2012! The other two are corrupt human garbage.
Winners never quit, quitters never win but those who never win and never quit are idiots....so good move....
Dodged a bullet there. 3 Down.
Is Newt a saint, no, but we aren't electing e Pope and he is an intellectual heavyweight with a lot of good ideas that cross party lines...we need to stop falling for fancy suits, good speeches and flashy campaign themes and get back to some substance.
AWWWW god definitively has a sense of humor...told people to run and now gave them the finger..ha ha ha ha...funny, funny..
Good man ! Anybody but BIG LOVE Romney
The only debate worth watching would be with the current wife and three ex wives of Newt Gingrich.
Now THAT would ALMOST be worth a Pay Per View fee ! lol
With remaining candidates Gingrich – Santorum may be a powerful ticket against Obama...
Things are great in Texas. How is your state doing?
RON PAUL FOR PRESIDENT. He's the only one that will restore our civil liberties.
People forget that Gingrich was run out of town last time he had any sort of power in Washington on the backs of massive ethics violations complaints.
What makes his supporters think he'd be any better with MORE power as President?