NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday
dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination
and endorsed Newt Gingrich, adding a fresh layer of
unpredictability to the campaign two days before the South Carolina
"Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?" Perry said. He
called the former House speaker a "conservative visionary" best
suited to replace Barack Obama in the White House.
While the ultimate impact of Perry's decision is unclear, it
reduced the number of conservative challengers to Mitt Romney. The
decision also reinforced the perception that Gingrich is the
candidate on the move in the final hours of the South Carolina
campaign, and that the front-running Romney is struggling to hold
onto his longtime lead.
Perry had scarcely finished speaking when Gingrich issued a
statement welcoming the endorsement. "I ask the supporters of
Governor Perry to look at my record of balancing the budget,
cutting spending, reforming welfare, and enacting pro-growth
policies to create millions of new jobs and humbly ask for their
vote," Gingrich said.
Romney reacted by praising Perry for running "a campaign based
upon love of country and conservative principles" and saying he
"has earned a place of prominence as a leader in our party."
Perry's exit marked the end of a campaign that began with
soaring expectations, but quickly faded. He shot to the head of the
public opinion polls when he announced his candidacy last summer,
but a string of poor debate performances soon led to a decline in
His defining moment came at one debate when he unaccountably
could not recall the third of three federal agencies he has
promised to abolish. He joked about it afterward, but never
recovered from the fumble.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor considered the more
moderate candidate in the race, has benefited thus far from having
several conservative challengers competing for the same segment of
voters. New polls show Romney leading in South Carolina but
Gingrich gaining steam heading into Saturday's contest in a state
where conservatives hold great sway in choosing the GOP nominee.
Perry's decision to endorse Gingrich does not necessarily mean
conservatives will rally behind the former House speaker. Former
Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a champion of the anti-abortion
issue, is still in the race and over the weekend was endorsed by a
group of evangelical leaders.
And there's no guarantee that the Texas donors who fueled
Perry's bid will shift to Gingrich, even if the governor asks them
Romney has been working to court them in recent weeks, having
made repeated visits to Texas to meet with major Republican donors.
He also won the backing of former President George H.W. Bush.
Several Perry supporters, who spoke on the condition of anonymity
to avoid publicly discussing their next steps before Perry's
announcement, said they have been approached by Romney's campaign and will support him as the most-likely candidate to face President Barack Obama in November.
At least three so-called "super" political action committees
have sprung up since early 2011 supporting Perry. One, Americans
for Rick Perry, raised about $193,000 during the first half of
2011, federal election records show.
But none of the groups has been more prominent than Make Us
Great Again, which aired more than $3.3 million worth of ads in
Iowa and South Carolina supporting the Texas governor. A spokesman for the group did not immediately return calls from the AP seeking comment about whom, if anyone, the PAC would support after Perry drops out.
Perry entered the race last August to great fanfare and high
numbers in polls. But his standing quickly fell after a series of
gaffes and other verbal missteps. Those errors called into question
whether the Texas politician who had never lost a race during his
three-decade career in elected office was ready for the national
His biggest flub came in a nationally televised debate in early
November, when he could not remember the name of the third Cabinet department he pledged to eliminate.
Perry could only manage to say, "Oops." Making fun of himself
afterward, he told reporters: "I stepped in it."
It was a cringe-inducing moment replayed more than a million
times on YouTube. The memory lapse not only solidified Perry's
reputation for weak debate performances, it gave the impression
that he couldn't articulate his own policies. The stumble further
tamped down his already faltering poll numbers.
Perry, 61, was relatively unknown outside of Texas until he
succeeded George W. Bush as governor after Bush was elected
president in 2000. A former Democrat, Perry had already spent about
15 years in state government when he became governor. He went on to win election to the office three times - the most recent was in
2010 - to become the state's longest-serving chief executive.
Part of Perry's appeal came from his humble beginnings as a
native of tiny Paint Creek, Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M
University and was a pilot in the Air Force before winning election
in 1984 to the Texas House of Representatives. He switched to the
GOP in 1989, and served as the state's agriculture commissioner
before his election as lieutenant governor in 1998.
Perry's success as a politician suggested he would be a strong
competitor to Obama. He had never lost a race in Texas, and his
fight against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for the Republican
gubernatorial nomination in 2010 showed how tough he could be on a
Perry picked Aug. 13 for his official announcement speech, the
same day as the Iowa Straw Poll. While rival Michele Bachmann won
that poll, the Texas governor cast a shadow over her victory by
challenging her as conservatives' best hope for winning the
nomination and defeating Obama.
He entered near the top of some polls. But his support of a
Texas policy to allow children of illegal immigrants to pay
in-state tuition rates soon proved to be problematic with
conservatives nationwide. So, too, did his 2007 order that would
have required schoolgirls in Texas to be vaccinated against human
papillomavirus. Although state lawmakers overturned the order,
Perry defended the vaccination as necessary to combatting the
sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer.
His performance on the campaign trail also led to concerns about
how his rhetoric would sound to a national audience. During a
campaign stop in Iowa in August, he suggested that Federal Reserve
Chairman Ben Bernanke would be practically committing treason if he
were to print more money and said, "I don't know what y'all would
do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in
A Perry speech to a New Hampshire audience in October led to a
damaging video, during which he appeared unusually animated -
"loopy" to some observers - a stark contrast to the image of the
serious, starchy governor he had projected. Amid questions, Perry
later told reporters that he hadn't been drinking or taking
medication at the time and called it "a pretty typical speech for
More flubs followed. While criticizing the nine-member Supreme
Court to a newspaper editorial board, he referred to "eight
unelected and frankly unaccountable judges" and struggled to come
up with the name of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, then called her
"Montemayor." He urged college students in New Hampshire to
support his candidacy, "those of you that will be 21" on Election
Day, though the voting age is 18.
The widespread criticism of those performances and his rivals'
attacks on his immigration and vaccination policies led to a
significant drop in support.
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