(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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One fool endorses another.
I said back in July that Perry would be this campaign season's Fred Thompson. He came in with huge hype, shot to #1 and then......opened his mouth.
He said "God" told him to run. Did he get another message from "God"?
None and Done
on second thou he ok considering he call him self a conservative whitch is another name for HATE.
We've just had one doofus president from Texas, we certainly don't need another.
Rick Perry drops presidential bid, endorses 'open marriage' Gingrich.
It was about time. Didn't need another George Bush in office. Hooray for the United States...
Wait until you see Romeny's tax returns – he will blow you away – he is not part of the 1% he is part of THE .3 %
WE HAVE HIS FINANCIAL PAPERS IN CANADA
AND THIS IS THE PERSON WHO IS TO REPRESENT THE AVERAGE AMERICAN????????
I'm not a Romney fan, but I'd rather have a rich guy who knows what economic growth and development means than some community organizer whose idea of economic growth is spend, spend, spend until the entire sytem collapses.
Honestly, I'd love to see Newt get the nomination. Why? Because Obama will utterly crush him in the general election. Hopefully the repugs don't catch on to the fact that they need independents to win the White House.
Nobody tell them. Let's sit back with our popcorn and watch them fall on their faces.
This doesn't surprise me...You could see how much Perry hated Romney...It was like the guy who was always smarter, better looking, better at sports, better scholastically...You always hated that guy because everything seemed easy for him and that's exactly how Perry responded to Romney at the debates...This is his chance to stick it to him...
See this is what's wrong with American Politics today. You take a bunch of shining "front-runner" hopefuls and throw them to the wolves to see who will beat, mame and if necessary kill to get out alive. Then, when all the bad blood has boiled over and enough ammunition has been provided for the opposition's campaign, we centralize behind this "front-runner" and hope to God they have a chance of beating the incumbent.
It doesn't make much sense to me, and it sure as hell is not the example I'd want my children and my childrens, children to follow.
We need a leader who can appeal to the masses not because of his political ideals, but because they understand "America." America is right now a contingency of people completely satisfied with mediocrity and if that doesn't change fast, we won't have much of an America to celebrate in years to come.
Perry states, "I have no question that Newt Gingrich has the heart of a conservative reformer..." Newt also has the head of a marshmallow, the brain of Frankenstein (Abby Normal), no class, and a distinct lack of morals. As a middle of the road voter who chooses who to vote for based on the individual as opposed to their party affiliation, I miss John Huntsman.
Hey, Rick, what happened to your "I'm No Quitter" rhetoric??? I'm sad that you'll be coming back to our state. You're now like the emperor with no clothes - Your own party has noticed and is finally willing to publicly say that YOU ARE SHOOTING BLANKS! Gosh, who votes for you now???
You do realize Newt can't get the middle right? How do you win without the middle? If you want anyone on your party to win, then go with someone who might have a shot.
Good luck Republicans having to choose between Romney and Gingrich. Both are morally challenged, Romney with his "screw the little guy Bain Capital deals and then pay very little taxes" approach to life and Gingrich with his "I'll say anything, do anything in my professional and personal life to get what I want despite the fact that I look like a complete hypocrite" approach to life. Neither are qualified to be President of the United States.
I think he would have left after Iowa,but he couldn't remember which way to direct his bus! Third state Texas!
Newt Gingrich needs to reform himself.
Newt may not get the nomination - if he does, he may not win the election - but no matter what, it would be fun watching him make mince meat out of Odumba in televised debates. Without a teleprompter to remind him which lies he's recently told, our prez will be in deep doodoo - up to his ankles, head first.
Ooops. No love for Willard? I wish he would have stuck around until after the debate. Needed a few more good laughs.
Of course he endorsed Newt...Perry still has dreams of being president one day and there's no way he'd endorse a younger Santorum!
Ya hoo! Gingrich as the nominee would clinch another term for President Obama.
Wasn't the world's best communicator but at least he's real. Wasn't a huge fan but he was warm and self-deprecating which I find charming. Romney is a 65 year old Ken doll with about as much charisma. One of those figurines that you find on the top of a wedding cake. Made of plastic too.
Gingrich will get my vote in the primary. Most of he sins are below the belt. Nothing yo be proud of, but I think most of the damage he's done to others is pretty much limited to his ex-wives.
Another one drops out. I thought he was suppose to be the great white white hope! He proved to be more thoughtless than the former C student from Texas. I wonder how the supposed wiz kid (Bobby Zindal) of Louisiana feels now that the candidate he made a point to endorse right out the gate, never made it pass the first curve! I gu ess the two of them can forget about a cabinet position now!
Rick Perry quit the race and nobody cared, except the news media ... but only because it has to.