NORTH CHARLESTON, SC -- Just over five months after his campaign began, Texas Gov. Rick Perry today exited the presidential race and endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"I know when it's time to make a strategic retreat, so I will leave the trail and return home to Texas and wind down my 2012 campaign organization," the governor said in a cramped hotel ballroom here at a hastily-called press conference.
"As I have contemplated the future of this campaign, I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path to victory for my candidacy in 2012," he said.
Spokesman Ray Sullivan told reporters that Perry made the decision to drop out late yesterday and alerted some senior staff last night. (Sullivan found out while eating at a Charleston area Wendy's.) His determination came as multiple conservative commentators were calling for his exit, and as several key endorsers in the state defected from his campaign.
Announcing his endorsement of Gingrich -- whom he had criticized during the campaign as a "Washington insider" and supporter of the individual mandate -- Perry alluded to the former speaker's checkered personal past.
"Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?" 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 own Christian faith."
Perry -- himself an evangelical Christian who proudly cites that he married the first woman he dated as a young man -- was joined at the press conference by his wife Anita, his son Griffin, and "Lone Survivor" author and decorated veteran Marcus Luttrell and his wife.
"Now the journey leads us back to Texas, neither discouraged nor disenchanted, but instead rewarded for the experience and resolute to remain in the arena and in the service of a great nation," Perry said.
As did his decision to remain in the race after the Iowa caucuses, today's decision came as a surprise to many members of his staff on the ground, who believed that Perry might want to appear at one last redeeming debate after becoming famous for his shaky performances early in his run.
Sullivan said on Wednesday that Perry has not ruled out a run for re-election in Texas nor another run for president in 2016.