Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out of the race for the 2012 Republican U.S. presidential nomination on Thursday after a series of gaffes and controversies undercut the campaign of the one-time frontrunner. He endorsed former rival Newt Gingrich.
"I've always believed the mission is greater than the man. As I have contemplated the future of this campaign, I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign," Perry, 61, told supporters in South Carolina, the conservative southern state where he had hoped to revive his campaign in Saturday's Republican presidential primary.
"Therefore today I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich for president of the United States," Perry added. "I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country."
Perry entered the race in August and briefly was at the front of the pack of Republican candidates, but a series of gaffes, lackluster debate performances and controversial statements during the campaign undermined his standing in polls.
Speaking of Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Perry said: "We've had our differences, which campaigns will inevitably have. And Newt is not perfect. But who among us is?"
"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," Perry added.
Perry's poll numbers remained low in South Carolina, with little prospect for improving before the primary or in the state contests ahead. Perry and Gingrich in recent days had both been criticizing frontrunner Mitt Romney over his conduct as head of private equity firm Bain Capital and had called for him to release his federal income tax returns.
Perry had contemplated getting out of the race after a distant fifth place showing in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses - the first contest in the state-by-state battle for the Republican nomination - but quickly decided to stay in the race. His campaign, however, never got any more traction.
Perry had roared past former Massachusetts Governor Romney and other rivals in August to take the lead in polls of the Republican candidates after entering the race.
POOR DEBATE PERFORMANCES
His conservative views and support from the grassroots Tea Party movement had positioned him as a top contender in the race for the Republican nomination.
But Perry foundered after several poor debate performances in which he was hammered by his rivals over his immigration policies and for ordering that young girls in Texas be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted virus.
He was ridiculed after a major debate stumble in November when he could not remember one of the three government agencies that he had repeatedly said he would eliminate if elected president. He also alienated some conservative voters with his stance on immigration.
This past Sunday Perry accused the Obama administration of overreacting to a videotape that shows four U.S. Marines appearing to urinate on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
The latest controversy to hit Perry came this week when U.S. ally Turkey condemned as "unfounded and inappropriate" the Texas governor's comments that Turkey is ruled by Islamic terrorists and questioned whether it should remain in the NATO alliance.
Perry also said during a Republican debate in South Carolina on Monday that the United States should eliminate all aid to its longtime ally.
Perry had been known for controversial remarks even before running for president. In 2009 he pondered his state's secession from the United States. At a Tea Party event in Austin, supporters shouted "secede," and Perry said Texas might want to "if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people."
Perry becomes the latest casualty in the presidential campaign. Last August, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty withdrew after failing to make headway in the race.
Former pizza executive Herman Cain dropped out in December amid allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity. And U.S. congresswoman Michele Bachmann dropped out earlier this month after a weak showing in Iowa.