Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s expected exit from the Republican presidential race provides a psychological boost for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s surging campaign and heightens the stakes for the GOP candidates’ debate Thursday evening on CNN.
Governor Perry is slated to speak at a press conference Thursday. News reports say he has alerted campaign contributors that he will drop out of the race and will endorse Mr. Gingrich.
The move comes just two days before voters go to the polls on Saturday in the South Carolina primary, which has voted for the candidate that went on to win the GOP presidential nomination in every election since 1980.
Perry’s decision will help the Gingrich campaign with its effort to sell their candidate as the one person most likely to be able to stop former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s second bid for the White House. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is also vying for that role.
It is an open question as to how many voters will take Perry’s advice to support Gingrich. The most recent polls show that much of Perry’s support had largely evaporated, with many former boosters shifting to other candidates who appeared to have a better chance.
A CNN/Time Magazine/ORC poll released Wednesday afternoon showed Romney leading the pack with 33 percent of likely South Carolina GOP voters. Gingrich was second with 23 percent, although there were reports that his support was increasing as the polling closed. Perry trailed the pack with 6 percent.
Romney’s weak performance Monday in a previous South Carolina debate on Fox, where he appeared awkward discussing his personal finances, helped fuel Gingrich's recent surge in the polls. Gingrich is a highly skilled debater.
An ABC News interview with Gingrich’s second wife will also appear on “Nightline” Thursday evening, according to the Associated Press. Gingrich has said that he and his former wife do not communicate. She has been reported to say that she could end his candidacy with a single interview.