(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.
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 released a statement on the endorsement.
“I am humbled and honored to have the support of my friend Rick Perry. His selflessness is yet another demonstration of his deep sense of citizenship and commitment to the cause of limited government, historic American values and greater freedom for every American,” Gingrich said.
One source close to the Perry campaign said Perry made the final decision Wednesday night and spoke with Gingrich on the phone shortly before he held the press conference Thursday morning.
“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.