Gov. Rick Perry of Texas dropped out of the Republican presidential race here on Thursday and announced his endorsement for the candidacy of Newt Gingrich, a man he called a “conservative visionary.”
“I’ve never believed that the cause of conservatism is embodied by one individual,” Mr. Perry said at a news conference here. “Our party and our conservative philosophy transcends any one individual.”
Mr. Perry, who opened his bid for the Republican presidential nomination five months ago here in South Carolina, conceded that “there is no viable path forward for me.” He urged Republicans to support Mr. Gingrich, who he conceded was not a perfect candidate, but was the best conservative alternative in the race.
“Newt is not perfect, but who among us is,” Mr. Perry said. “The fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God. And I believe in the power of redemption, for it is a central tenet of my Christian faith.”
Mr. Perry reached the decision on Wednesday night, his aides said, and informed Mr. Gingrich of his plans to leave the race. He was planning to fly home to Texas shortly after his announcement.
“I have no question that Newt Gingrich has the heart of a conservative reformer,” Mr. Perry said, adding that the Republican Party cannot squander its opportunity to put forward a “conservative leader who can bring about real change.”
In a brief announcement here, as Mr. Perry was surrounded by his wife and family, he did not acknowledge Mitt Romney by name. But his praise of Mr. Gingrich, along with his repeated calls for Republicans to elect a true conservative, seemed to be a direct shot at Mr. Romney.
It remains an open question what effect his endorsement of Mr. Gingrich will have on the South Carolina primary on Saturday. But with only four Republican candidates remaining in the race, conservatives are urging voters to coalesce around one alternative to Mr. Romney.
Mr. Perry had no immediate plans to campaign alongside Mr. Gingrich over the next two days, aides said. He did not take questions during his brief appearance here in North Charleston and left the stage after kissing his wife, Anita, and thanking his family.
Mr. Perry’s decision comes as Mr. Gingrich has picked up support in South Carolina during the past week of campaigning. A CNN/Time survey released Wednesday showed that Mr. Romney’s lead over Mr. Gingrich in South Carolina has been cut in half over the past two weeks. Mr. Gingrich has urged his other rivals to drop out so that conservative voters can coalesce around him as the alternative to Mr. Romney.
Rick Santorum, who had 16 percent support in the CNN/Time survey, on Wednesday dismissed that suggestion out of hand. Mr. Santorum is scheduled to hold two events Thursday before participating in a debate sponsored by CNN.
The decision by Mr. Perry, which was first reported by CNN, narrows the Republican field to four candidates. A new NBC News/Marist poll of likely Republican voters in South Carolina shows that among Mr. Perry’s supporters, 34 percent said Mr. Gingrich was their second choice, 20 percent said Ron Paul, 19 percent said Mr. Santorum, and 18 percent said Mr. Romney. But it is important to remember, that only 4 percent of all South Carolina likely voters said they were supporting Rick Perry to begin with.
In a statement, Mr. Romney praised Mr. Perry, who had recently called Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, “a vulture capitalist.”
“Rick Perry ran a campaign based upon love of country and conservative principles,” Mr. Romney said in a statement. “He has earned a place of prominence as a leader in our party, and I salute him for his commitment to making President Obama a one-term president and finally getting our nation’s economy back on the right track. The nation owes Governor Perry a debt of gratitude for his years of service to his state and country. I wish Anita and him well.”
It was the second time that Mr. Perry had signaled that he would leave the race. After a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses two weeks ago, Mr. Perry said that he was returning to Texas to reassess his campaign, but he decided to press ahead in South Carolina.
Mr. Perry was in the single digits in recent polls here, but his withdrawal from the race could affect the outcome of the primary by giving conservative voters one fewer alternative. He had been appealing heavily to South Carolina’s evangelical voters.
In an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Mr. Perry said that he would leave the decision over whether he would remain in the race to the voters of South Carolina. But in the end, a supporter said, he wanted to avoid a last-place finish in South Carolina.