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Perry bows out, and then there were 4

Endorses Gingrich as the best hope for conservatives

Chris Keane/Reuters

Governor Rick Perry of Texas entered the race on strong expectations but stumbled from one gaffe to another.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who entered the 2012 Republican presidential race with sky-high expectations but eventually stammered his way back to earth, summoned an eloquence that often eluded him on the trail as he ended his campaign yesterday and endorsed Newt Gingrich.

“We’ve had our differences, which campaigns will inevitably have, and Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?’’ Perry asked with biblical phraseology and cadence, obliquely referring to complaints about Gingrich’s past infidelities, both in marriage and in principles. “But the fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God. And I believe in the power of redemption, for it is a central tenet of my Christian faith.

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“I have no question that Newt Gingrich has the heart of a conservative reformer, the ability to rally and captivate the conservative movement, the courage to tell those Washington interests to take a hike, if that is what is in the best interest of our country.’’

Perry’s address was made a few miles from the site where, on Aug. 13, he had declared his intentions to run for the presidency. Then, he the candidate he was describing yesterday, the outsider ready to dismantle a dysfunctional Washington, the one to captivate and consolidate the conservative movement.

He brought to the campaign rock-solid religious conservative credentials and a compelling narrative - governor of a state that added thousands of jobs while the rest of the country stagnated. He also had an attribute perhaps most threatening to presumed front-runner Mitt Romney: the reputation of a consummate campaigner, equally at ease engaging voters one on one and enticing big-money Republicans to open their wallets.

Perry, 61, is the longest continuously serving Texas governor in state history. He assumed office in 2000 when George W. Bush resigned before being sworn in as president. Two years ago, Perry had already tweaked the Republican establishment, handily defeating Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in his reelection for governor.

By then, he had become a Tea Party favorite with his anti-Washington views and his fiscal conservatism. He also had a strong following among social conservatives, a crucial element in two of the first three contests in the nomination process: Iowa and South Carolina.

To the delight of those conservative evangelicals, Perry proudly and vocally embraced his faith, telling voters his decision to run came only after prayer. The weekend before he announced his candidacy, he sloughed off questions about the separation of church and state as he convened “The Response,’’ a religious gathering at the massive Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Perry was urged to run for president by conservatives seeking a different choice than Romney, who had the experience of running in 2008 but hails from a Northeastern state and once embraced more liberal views about abortion rights, gay rights, and gun control.

Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and Michele Bachmann were once envisioned for the same role, but the Minnesota congresswoman was the only one among the three to join Perry in the race.

Perry announced his candidacy on the day the rest of the field competed in the Iowa Straw Poll. Bachmann ended up winning that vote, but Perry stole the spotlight from her with his first speeches.

“The fact is for the three years now that President Obama has been in office, he’s been downgrading American jobs, he’s been downgrading our standing on the world, he’s been downgrading our financial stability, downgrading the hope of a better future for our children,’’ Perry told a crowd in Greenland, N.H., after flying up from Charleston.

“It’s time to get America working, folks, and that’s the reason I am announcing my candidacy today to be president of the United States.’’

On paper, Perry looked promising, with his fund-raising network and record of never losing a political campaign. He proved his mettle during the first fund-raising quarter, when he raised $17.2 million - $3 million more than Romney despite having been in the race for only a month and a half.

Yet Perry’s poll numbers began a steady decline, which only accelerated after a round of debates that started two days after Labor Day. He started strong during a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library with answers about illegal immigration and capital punishment, but he stumbled when asked about his labeling of Social Security a “Ponzi scheme’’ and his proposal to require that teenaged Texas girls receive a vaccine against the human papillomavirus.

In October he faced a fresh controversy over a hunting camp his family leased that once had a racially charged name.

Two months later he bottomed out during a debate in Rochester, Mich., as he forgot the name of the third of three federal agencies he said he would eliminate if elected president.

“The third agency of government I would do away with,’’ he said, pausing. “The Education, the, uh, Commerce, and, let’s see, I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry.’’ He then added, “Oops,’’ an admission that seemed to sink his campaign.

Over time, Perry shifted his focus and brought on new advisers, led by former Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh. He also shifted from a 50-state campaign to one concentrating on Iowa.

When Perry ended up finishing a disappointing fifth in the Jan. 3 caucuses, he nearly quit. But, after a jog the following morning, he announced he would continue on and wage a final bid for the nomination.

Nonetheless, the latest polls in South Carolina showed him faring no better than fifth in the five-man field heading into tomorrow’s voting.

“As a Texan I’ve never shied away from a fight, particularly when I consider the cause to be righteous,’’ Perry said yesterday. “But as someone who has always admired a great, if not the greatest, Texas governor, Sam Houston, I know when it’s time to make a strategic retreat.’’

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
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