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Perry drops out of GOP presidential race, endorses Gingrich

David Goldman / AP

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry pauses while announcing he is suspending his campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, in North Charleston, S.C.

Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET 

Texas Governor Rick Perry announced Thursday morning that he is dropping out of the presidential race and is endorsing Newt Gingrich for the Republican nomination.

"There is no viable path forward for me," he told supporters on Thursday. "I gave fully of myself for a cause worthy of this country," he added. Perry said it was time for him to make a "strategic retreat."

Spokesman Ray Sullivan told reporters after the announcement that money was a factor; that the campaign had gone through "the bulk of our friends." He added that Perry is not yet ruling out running for re-election as governor or making another play for the White House in four years.

Of Gingrich, Perry said Thursday, "Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?" Perry continued, "There is forgiveness for those who seek God." He applauded Gingrich as "a conservative visionary who can transform our country." 

The former House speaker watched Perry's speech from his campaign bus, parked outside of Beaufort, S.C. He said he was "honored and humbled" by the endorsement. He called Perry a "great patriot."

Gingrich's candidacy has been boosted by strong debate performances, with another debate scheduled for Thursday. But he's likely to receive more unflattering attention when ABC News airs an interview with his second wife, Marianne Gingrich. In the interview, Marianne Gingrich says Gingrich asked her for an "open marriage" in which he could have both a wife and a mistress, and she refused.

Story: Gingrich ex-wife says he sought 'open' relationship

Perry's withdrawal and endorsement of Gingrich is a further sign that he's emerging as the main rival to Romney, who has failed to persuade many Republicans of his conservative credentials.

Perry had faced calls to drop out of the race to compel conservative voters, whose support has been divided among several conservative candidates, to rally behind Gingrich in hopes of stopping Romney. Recent polls show Gingrich gaining steam heading into the South Carolina primary, but he still trails Romney by about 10 percentage points.

Texas Governor Rick Perry holds a press conference in North Charleston, S.C., to announce he is dropping his presidential bid and endorsing Newt Gingrich.

Saturday's contest has been seen as the pivotal battle in the race, following what had initially been declared a narrow victory for Romney in Iowa, the first nominating contest, and a solid Romney win in last week's New Hampshire primary. Since 1980, no Republican has won the presidential nomination without a victory in the state.

But Republican officials said Thursday that Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, edged the former Massachusetts governor in Iowa by 34 votes, though no winner was declared because some votes remain missing.

Story: Santorum declares victory after revised Iowa caucus total

Perry entered the race last August to great fanfare and high poll numbers. But his standing quickly fell after a series of campaign blunders. During a nationally televised debate in early November, he could not remember the name of the third Cabinet department he had pledged to eliminate. "Oops," he told the audience. He later admitted of the gaffe, "I stepped in it."

Perry finished fifth in both Iowa and New Hampshire and, at one at one point said he was going to go back to Texas to reassess his path forward, but then headed to South Carolina instead.

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The Texas governor's decision comes after a disappointing campaign and just days before the critical South Carolina primary, NBC News' Carrie Dann reports.

Perry made his announcement to withdraw from the race just hours before Thursday night's GOP debate. He was joined on stage by his wife Anita and son, Griffin, and stressed that the Republican Party "transcends any one individual."

He said that "the campaign has never been about the candidates," and lamented, "a calling never guarantees a particular outcome."