Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped his presidential bid Thursday, asking his supporters to instead stand behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, just two days before the South Carolina primary that was considered crucial for his run for the White House."There is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign," Perry said during a news conference he called at a hotel in North Charleston, S.C. "I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich for president."I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform this country," he said. "Newt is not perfect, but who among us is? The fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God. And I believe in the power of redemption."Gingrich quickly responded that he's "delighted" to have Perry's endorsement.Perry made the decision to leave the race late Wednesday afternoon, sharing the news with staffers over a dinner at Wendy's around 8:30 p.m., Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said.Sullivan also said Perry won't rule out seeking another term as governor - or a second bid for president.It was not known whether Perry's move to pull out of the race would benefit Gingrich or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been out in front for most of the race and has gained supporters as other conservative challengers dropped out. The most recent polls showed he was leading in the South Carolina race, but Gingrich had strong support there as well.But former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has drawn support from a group of evangelical leaders, is a contender in the race as well. And new reports Thursday show it was Santorum who actually won the Iowa caucus, even though initial reports indicated that Romney won the race by eight votes.Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, also remains in the race.Perry's withdrawal from the race came the day of the last debate before Saturday's South Carolina primary.Perry said he was grateful for the chance to run for president, but said his campaign "has never been about the candidates.""I ran for president because I love America, I love our people, I love our freedom," he said. "This mission is greater than any one man."Last August, after months of speculation, Perry jumped into the presidential race, drawing national news attention and immediately becoming the front-runner.But after lackluster debate performances and campaign missteps, his campaign began to struggle.Earlier this month, after finishing fifth in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, Perry had considered ending his presidential bid. He continued on, though, after getting one night's rest and being encouraged by supporters and his family to stay in the race. His strategy was to skip the New Hampshire primary and make South Carolina his battleground.'A strategic retreat'South Carolina was to have been the first southern state where Perry could put his deep Texas roots, and military veteran status, to best use.But a poll by CNN/ORC released yesterday showed Perry lagging behind in fifth place, with just 6 percent. Romney was in the lead with 33 percent, Gingrich followed with 23 percent, Santorum had 16 percent and Paul was in fourth with 13 percent.Perry said the goal is to make sure that a "conservative champion" can replace Democrat President Barack Obama in the White House."As a Texan, I've never shied away from a fight," Perry said. "But ... I know when it's time to make a strategic retreat."I will leave the trail, return home to Texas, wind down my 2012 campaign," he said. "And I will do so with pride, knowing I gave fully of myself."'There was no future'Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant who advises Republicans and Democrats, offered this analysis of Perry's campaign: "It didn't work. There was no future, no hope. You have to come back to your day job."Added Miller: "The campaign started in first place and ended in last place. All the things that were done wrong would fill a book."Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in southern California and a former Republican National Committee staffer, said: "By traditional standards, he should have been a contender - a big state governor, experienced, appeal to conservatives. On paper, he had everything."So, what happened?"He never thought his candidacy through. He never devised a campaign strategy. He seemed to assume that once he entered the race, the nomination would come to him," Pitney said.Supporters disappointedLongtime Perry supporters, such as Angela Cox, who heads the Johnson County Tea Party and helped campaign for Perry in Iowa, were disappointed with Perry's news, but praised the governor for his work."While I'm saddened by the news, people that know me know I always look for the silver lining in everything," Cox wrote on Facebook Thursday morning. "Guess what. I get to welcome my governor back to Texas. (YAY!) I will do so with a great sense of pride for he and his family were willing to step up to the plate with much sacrifice and a great effort."She said she now will "evaluate the remaining field of GOP nominee hopefuls."But she said she does not plan to back Mitt Romney or Ron Paul."I tip my hat to Gov. Rick Perry and his family for the great effort and sacrifices they made for his Presidential campaign," she wrote.Katon Dawson, Perry's South Carolina campaign chairman, expressed disappointment, but said he expects Perry to remain a voice for the conservative cause, predicting he will "be a presence on the national stage for the rest of his life.""The winner today is the state of Texas," Dawson said.Perry said he isn't through."Things are going to be good no matter what I do," he said. "I have just begun to fight."Star-Telegram Washington bureau chief Maria Recio contributed to this report. Montgomery reported from North Charleston, S.C., and Tinsley from Fort Worth.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610, Twitter: @annatinsley; Dave Montgomery, 512-476-4294, Twitter: @daveymontgomery