NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Rick Perry is leaving open the possibility of seeking another term as governor -- or maybe making a second presidential bid -- after dropping out of the presidential race Thursday.Two days before the South Carolina primary, which he once hoped would reverse his slide in the Republican race, Perry instead ended his campaign. He endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the nomination, declaring that the quest to select the right Republican candidate is "greater than any one man.""I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path to victory for my candidacy in 2012," Perry said. "As someone who has always admired a great, if not the greatest, Texas governor, Sam Houston, I know when it is time to make a strategic retreat."So I will leave the trail, return home to Texas and wind down my 2012 organization. And I will do so with pride, knowing I gave myself fully to a cause worthy of our country."While this was the definitive end to Perry's campaign, the failed bid's effect on his political future in Texas remains far from certain.Ray Sullivan, Perry's communications director, said he expects Perry, who returned to Austin on Thursday afternoon, to be back at work in the governor's office "pretty quick." He held out the possibility that Perry, already the state's longest-serving governor, may seek re-election in 2014 and could make a second run for president in 2016."Keep in mind that almost all of our nominees in the past 50 years have been on their second attempt at the White House, so Republican voters tend to like experienced candidates that they've seen for a long time. I would not rule that out," Sullivan said.But some analysts said Perry's collapse as a presidential candidate could undercut his political strength."He does come home as somewhat damaged goods," said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University. "He was so uncompetitive in the Republican nomination fight that he became somewhat of a laughingstock. But I think he can get past that and be effective in Texas."Many state lawmakers are already focused on the 2013 legislative session and are moving forward with dozens of interim studies as a court battle unfolds over which district boundaries should be used for this year's elections.Perry exits as the race for the nomination is as up in the air as ever.Days ago, pundits speculated that Mitt Romney would wrap up the nomination in South Carolina on Saturday.Now the experts wonder whether the race will become a much longer haul because Romney's momentum has slowed and Gingrich is gaining on him despite his own campaign troubles.Also still in the race are Rick Santorum, who has the support of many evangelicals, and Rep. Ron Paul, who has a small but determined army of followers.'Not done fighting'"The journey leads me back to Texas, neither discouraged nor disenchanted," Perry said Thursday. "I'm not done fighting for the cause of conservatism."As a matter of fact, I have just begun to fight."Perry told Gingrich of his plans to endorse him about an hour before announcing his withdrawal, Sullivan said. Perry is "certainly open" to campaigning for Gingrich, Sullivan said, but has no immediate plans to."Speaker Gingrich and Gov. Perry have a long-standing good relationship," Sullivan said, pointing out that the former speaker wrote the foreword in Perry's book, Fed Up.Gingrich told PBS on Thursday that Perry's endorsement "was very helpful and I think will make a very big difference both around the country and an enormous difference in Texas."Perry's candidacy began in August after months of speculation. He drew national media attention and immediately became the front-runner. But after lackluster debate performances and other missteps, his campaign began to struggle.This month, after finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses, Perry considered ending his bid. After relatives and supporters encouraged him to continue, he decided to skip the New Hampshire primary and make South Carolina his battleground. As polls showed him lagging behind the pack, he ended his campaign two days before the vote.Perry said he is 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."The Make Us Great Again political action committee, created to help fund Perry's bid, announced that it too is winding down.Getting back to workPerry is expected to take a few days off before returning to work as governor -- a post he once called "the best job in the world.""When we last saw him before he went to run for the presidency, he was a guy who had never been beaten and didn't make mistakes," said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant who works with both Republicans and Democrats. "...But there's a sympathetic audience here and people wanted him to succeed. People will tell him to shake it off and get back to work."Some lawmakers say it's time for Perry to get back to focusing on Texas."I look forward to Gov. Perry refocusing his attention on the wide range of challenges we face as a state," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth. "With public schools across the state struggling to meet rigorous academic standards with declining state funding, Perry's presidential bid couldn't end a moment too soon for Texas teachers and students."Longtime Perry supporters such as Angela Cox, who heads the Johnson County Tea Party and helped campaign for Perry in Iowa, were disappointed that he is out of the race but pleased with what he did."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 on 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."What's next?Perry's political future beyond his current term may be up in the air."He is saying now that he won't rule out re-election in order to keep his political influence intact," Jillson said. "Everything would move past him and he'd be ignored."The idea that he wouldn't rule out a second presidential bid is comic book material. I expect him to come back to Texas, go to work as governor and try to rebuild the foundation of his influence in Texas."Jillson predicts that Perry will finish his term and then work in the private sector.But Perry could be offered a federal appointment such as interior secretary or agriculture secretary if a Republican wins the White House, said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington."Gov. Perry may not know himself what he wishes to do," Saxe said. "But I believe he will return to Austin, complete his term as governor, go through the next legislative session and then become a Republican statesman who has already made Texas history by being the longest-serving Texas governor to this time."He can return to Texas with no shame and frankly will be highly regarded."Dave Montgomery reported from South Carolina and Anna M. Tinsley from Fort Worth. Star-Telegram Washington bureau chief Maria Recio and staff writer Aman Batheja contributed to this report.Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610Twitter: @annatinsleyDave Montgomery,512-476-4294Twitter: @daveymontgomery
2010: Perry won the GOP primary with 51.1 percent of the vote and the general election with 55 percent.
2006: Won primary with 84.2 percent, general election with 39 percent.
2002: Unopposed in primary; won general election with 57.8 percent.
1998: Unopposed in primary; won general election with 50 percent.
1994: Unopposed in primary; won general election with 61.9 percent.
1990: In first statewide run, got 47.2 percent in the primary; won primary runoff with 68.8 percent; won general election with 49.1 percent.