Perry drops out, endorses Gingrich

Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the Republican presidential race on Thursday and endorsed Newt Gingrich.

“As I have contemplated the future of this campaign, I have come to the conclusion that there is no more viable path forward for me in this campaign," Perry said at a press conference in North Charleston, S.C. "That is why today I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich for president."

Perry’s endorsement could boost Gingrich, who polls suggest is closing in on GOP front-runner Mitt Romney ahead of Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

But Gingrich’s campaign on Thursday was dealing with a huge controversy: an interview with ex-wife Marianne Gingrich in which she said the former House Speaker had asked her for an open marriage so that he could continue an affair with a congressional aide, who later became his third and current wife, Calista Gingrich.

In endorsing Gingrich, Perry appeared to reference the scandal engulfing Gingrich’s campaign.

“Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?” said Perry. "The fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God. And I believe in the power of redemption, for it is a central tenant of my Christian faith.”

Perry went on to call Gingrich a “conservative visionary who will transform our country.”

“I have no doubt Newt Gingrich is a man with 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.”

Romney has a comfortable lead in South Carolina, but polls suggest Gingrich is closing the gap. It is unclear whether Marianne Gingrich's comments will prove devastating to his hopes in the Palmetto State.

After Perry's announcement, Romney released a statement praising the Texas governor's campaign and wishing him well. 

“Rick Perry ran a campaign based upon love of country and conservative principles. He has earned a place of prominence as a leader in our party,” Romney said.“The nation owes Governor Perry a debt of gratitude for his years of service to his state and country.”

Perry entered the race in August to much fanfare and immediately topped polls. But a series of disastrous debate performances, including one in which he failed to remember the three government agencies he would shut down as president, left him behind the GOP pack.

Perry had sought to make a last stand in South Carolina, but an NBC-Marist poll released on Thursday showed Perry in fifth place among South Carolina voters, with just 4 percent of the vote. Romney led with 34 percent — Perry also trailed Gingrich with 24 percent, Ron Paul with 16 percent and Rick Santorum with 14 percent.

Perry's campaign spent much of Wednesday denying rumors that the Texas governor would drop out of the race. But Wednesday was a bad day for the campaign, as two prominent conservatives — Erick Erickson and Laura Ingraham — called for him to drop out and endorse another candidate ahead of the South Carolina vote on Saturday.

Perry, who had never before lost an election, said Thursday he leaves the campaign with a sense of "pride" and that he believes the "mission" carries on.

"I've never believed that the cause of conservativism is embodied by one individual," Perry said. "Our mission is not only to defeat Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaModerate or left of center — which is better for Democrats in 2020? Obama: Countries facing severe effects of climate change offer 'moral call to rest of the world' Democrats' self-inflicted diversity vulnerability MORE, but to replace him with a conservative leader who will bring about real change."