Rick Perry Leaves GOP Race

Rick Perry GOP Las Vegas - P 2011
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Rick Perry GOP Las Vegas - P 2011

UPDATED: The Texas governor has dropped out of the South Carolina primary, and will not participate in Thursday's Republican debate.

Rick Perry announced Thursday that he is dropping out of the race for the presidency and throwing his support behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Perry's announcement comes just two days before the South Carolina primary, where Gingrich appears to be gaining some momentum.

"I have no question Newt has the heart of a conservative reformer," Perry told supporters at a speech Thursday morning.

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"As a Texan, I've never shied away from a fight," he said, adding: "I know when it's time to make a strategic retreat. I will do so with pride."

Following his fifth-place finish in Iowa two weeks ago, Perry immediately returned to his home state to reassess his campaign. Hours later, he confirmed -- via his Twitter account -- that he would remain a contender.

With former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's exit earlier this week, the Republican field is now down to four candidates:  frontrunner Mitt Romney, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul and Gingrich.