Charleston, South Carolina (CNN) - Rick Perry is telling supporters that he will drop his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday, two sources familiar with the plans told CNN.
More to follow...
Update: from POLITICO, emphasis mine:
Rick Perry is expected to drop out later this morning at an 11 a.m. press conference and endorse Newt Gingrich, two sources confirmed to POLITICO. ...
It gives the surging Gingrich a huge boost heading into the final debate tonight, and the South Carolina primary on Saturday, in which he's already closing in on Mitt Romney.
I'm not sure I'd call this a "huge boost" for Gingrich--Rick Perry has only been polling around 5%, he doesn't have many followers to give--but this could amp up the pressure on Santorum to drop out and throw his support behind the last Not-Romney standing, too. (And no, I'm not counting Ron Paul as a 'Not-Romney'.)
With two days to go, Perry polls among South Carolina Republicans at about 6 percent — the same number of people who said they had no opinion about whom they’d choose. His campaign has been damaged by defections – notably top donor Barry Wynn, who left Perry for Mitt Romney – and an inability to gain ground with the public, despite spending millions of dollars.
Behind the scenes, many fundraisers and supporters who once waxed ecstatic over Perry as the GOP’s white knight when he entered the race now say they’re deflated and upset that he didn’t appear ready for the task.
“It’s over. It’s long over. Sometimes things are finished before they’re over. It’s embarrassing to come out of the gate and get shot down, but it happens,” said a Perry fundraiser who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You’d think a guy who had 11 years in office … that he’d prepare, he’d read the paper and get prepared.”
Those early stumbles froze what would have been important donations, fundraisers said, and the campaign has all but given up on trying to regain its mojo even as Perry soldiers on in South Carolina.
“Nobody calls, nobody works, nobody has any expectations that he’s gonna win,” the fundraiser said.
Update III: Also from POLITICO, it appears that Newt Gingrich has been pushing for this from behind-the-scenes, and the fallout is feeling mighty disorganized:
Gingrich has been assiduously lobbying Perry officials in recent days, POLITICO has learned. The former House speaker has repeatedly texted Perry manager Joe Allbaugh. ...
The discord within the Perry campaign was evident even as the candidate prepared to drop out.
Top officials in Texas said they were unaware of his intentions and as late as this morning said they genuinely didn’t know whether he was still running.
Update IV: It's official--at a press conference in South Carolina, in which he seemed perfectly poised, dignified, and amicable, Rick Perry pulled the plug on his campaign for the presidency. "As a Texan, I've never shied away from a fight," he said, but "I know when it's time to make a strategic retreat... I will do so with pride knowing I gave [all of] myself for a cause worthy of this country." As predicted, Perry endorsed Newt Gingrich, calling him "a conservative visionary who can transform our country" with the "courage to tell those Washington interests to take a hike." He thanked his wife, family, and political supporters, and asked all conservatives to "rise to the occassion and elect a conservative champion... I'm not done fighting for the cause of conservatism. As I matter of fact, I have just begun to fight." Overall, a very graceful withdrawal speech.
So, rather than stick around through a most certainly poor showing in the South Carolina primary, Rick Perry has jumped ship, and the debate tonight will feature only four candidates--and if Newt does as well tonight as he did on Monday evening, he may very well gain some more momentum in threatening Mitt Romney's lead.