By The Associated Press
AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the presidential race on Thursday, endorsed his old friend Newt Gingrich and returned home to Texas, where the failed White House candidate has three years left to serve as the chief executive.
“I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path to victory for my candidacy in 2012,” Perry said in North Charleston, S.C., just two days before the primary there. “I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country.”
Money also was a factor, with spokesman Ray Sullivan saying: “We have spent the bulk of our funds.” He added that Perry hasn’t ruled out running again for governor or the White House in 2016 if President Barack Obama is re-elected.
Perry ended his campaign where he launched it last August, when tea party and evangelical Christian leaders hailed him as a charismatic conservative and some early polls showed him as a front-runner for the Republican nomination. But soon after, Perry’s verbal gaffes and poor debate performances sent his campaign into a tailspin from which it never recovered.
It was too soon to tell whether Perry’s rocky turn on the national stage had damaged him politically at home. But already there were signs of his diminished clout.
Several Texas donors who fueled his bid indicated they were likely to back Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is considered the more moderate candidate in the race. And South Carolina House speaker David Wilkins, who had supported Perry, ignored the governor’s recommendation and shifted his support to Romney, too.
Short of a Gingrich victory leading to a job for Perry in Washington, Perry will most likely stay in Austin where — despite his dismal presidential campaign — he’s still considered the most powerful politician in the state. He has appointed more than 1,000 people to key government positions since becoming governor in 2000. State lawmakers also depend on his support.
But that doesn’t mean he won’t face serious headwinds.
Democrats insist the failed presidential run has diminished his power and embarrassed Texans. Conservatives also have complained about the $2.6 million the state has spent on his security detail while he campaigned outside the state. Top Republicans, meanwhile, have been positioning themselves to replace him whether he won the presidency or retired in 2014.
Roy Blount, a Perry supporter and deep-pocketed Republican donor in Texas, said he expected Perry to remain popular and powerful.
“Everything he stood for resonates with Texans,” Blount said. “He’s got this state as a leading state, and he wants to continue that and expand it.”