Rick Perry dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination on Thursday and endorsed rival Newt Gingrich. "Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?" Perry said.
The move by the Texas governor to end his flailing campaign comes two days before the primary in South Carolina, where he has been unable to gain a foothold among the state's many evangelicals and social conservatives. The endorsement of Gingrich also comes as polls suggest the former speaker is closing in on front-runner Mitt Romney as voters prepare to vote in the state on Saturday.
“As I’ve contemplated the future of this campaign, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign. Therefore today I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich for president of the United States,” Perry said at a press conference. “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?” he asked.
Perry appeared before a packed room of reporters and a handful of campaign staff. He was accompanied by his wife, Anita, his son, Griffin, and a military veteran, Marcus Luttrell, and his wife, with whom Perry has a close relationship.
"I know when it's time to make a strategic retreat," he added.
Polls show Perry running dead last in the Republican pack, with only 4 percent support among likely GOP voters in South Carolina in a poll by NBC News/Marist published on Thursday.
Perry had weighed dropping out of the race after a dismal finish in the GOP caucuses in Iowa, but he decided to stay in to make one last play for the nomination in South Carolina.
At his own campaign event in Beaufort, S.C., Gingrich said, “I was very honored and very humbled to have Governor Perry speak so well about endorsing me just a few minutes ago as he withdrew from the campaign.”
“Callista and I are both very fond of Rick and Anita Perry, they are terrific people. He has been a great patriot," Gingrich said.
A senior campaign aide said Gingrich’s staff had begun reaching out to Perry’s campaign “aggressively,” in recent days. Gingrich himself had suggested on the trail it would be helpful for him if Perry were to drop out, though Perry always resisted his remarks.
Perry’s speech, while solemn, did not carry a heavy air of defeat. As he closed his short remarks, he pledged, “I’m not done fighting for the cause of conservatism. As a matter of fact, I have just begun to fight.” He said he was ending his campaign with pride.
The NBC News/Marist poll showed the 15-point gap between Gingrich and Romney in South Carolina shrinking to five points. The remaining candidates face off in another debate in the state on Thursday evening.
Sarah Huisenga contributed