Perry drops out of GOP presidential race

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Texas Gov. Rick Perry bowed to the inevitable Thursday morning and dropped out of the Republican presidential race just two days before the pivotal South Carolina primary, endorsing the surging Newt Gingrich as he made his exit.

“This mission is greater than any one man,” Perry said during an appearance at a hotel in North Charleston, S.C. “I discovered this incredible resiliency of our people. They haven’t lost hope. They haven’t stopped believing in the American dream…We are too great a people for that. What’s broken in America is not our people; it is our politics.”

Perry made an emotional statement just hours before a CNN debate in Charleston, which begins at 8 p.m. It remains to be seen if his move will aid the strategic goal of many conservative leaders to unite behind a single champion to stop Mitt Romney. Conservative candidates have been splitting the vote on the right, especially among social and religious conservatives, enabling Romney to move forward with establishment GOP support, moderate voters and fiscal conservatives.

Perry was running dead last in the smaller Republican pack. 4 percent support among likely GOP voters in South Carolina in a poll by NBC News/Marist published on Thursday, the same as his showing in a CNN/Time polls on Wednesday

Both Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and leader of opposition to abortion access and gay rights, and Gingrich, the former House speaker, both sought Perry’s endorsement. The Texas governor picks Gingrich, with whom he has a close relationship.

“I believe Newt is a leader who can transform our country,” Perry said. “Newt is not perfect but who among us is? There is forgiveness for those who seek God. I have no question that Newt Gingrich has the heart of a conservative reformer.”