Rick Perry: “I know when it’s time to make a strategic retreat”

The Republican presidential race has been dramatically shaken up after Texas Governor Rick Perry quit and endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

His exit came as it emerged front-runner Mitt Romney had not won Iowa’s caucuses, as initially thought, because of a mix-up on the vote count.

A resurgent Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, faces embarrassment after his ex-wife claimed he wanted an open marriage.

The four remaining contenders face a crunch TV debate on Thursday.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former House of Representatives Speaker Mr Gingrich, veteran Texas Congressman Ron Paul and a former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum compete in a potentially crucial primary election in South Carolina on Saturday.

‘Newt’s not perfect’

Mr Romney is the front-runner in the state-by-state race for the Republican Party’s nomination to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama for the White House this November.

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Perry: Where did it all go wrong?

  • 1 Oct: Raises eyebrows after saying he would consider sending US troops into Mexico to fight drug war
  • 28 Oct: An unusually animated speech by Perry in New Hampshire prompts him to deny speculation he was drunk or on medication
  • 10 Nov: In a debate, Perry can’t remember the name of a third government department he would eliminate if elected
  • 29 Nov: Mistakenly refers to the minimum voting age as 21 (it’s 18)
  • 6 Dec: Is fiercely criticised for a campaign ad attacking gays in the military and claiming children can’t celebrate Christmas
  • 8 Dec: Corrects himself after saying US had been at war in Iran, rather than Iraq
  • 9 Dec: Says eight justices sit on the Supreme Court (the number is nine)
  • 3 Jan: Reconsiders campaign after flop in Iowa, only to change his mind, distributing a photo of himself in athletic attire, giving a thumb-up
  • 11 Jan: Attacks Romney as a “vulture” capitalist, provoking conservative outcry that he should not criticise the free-market system
  • 16 Jan: His remark in a TV debate that Turkey is ruled by “Islamic terrorists” is seen as yet another gaffe

When Mr Perry entered the race in August, he briefly shot to the front of the pack before gaffes and poor debate performances set him back.

The Texas governor told supporters in South Carolina on Thursday: “I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign.

“Therefore today I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich.”

He called Mr Gingrich “a conservative visionary who can transform our country”, adding: “Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?”

Moments later, Mr Gingrich welcomed the endorsement.

He said in a statement: “I ask the supporters of Governor Perry to look at my record of balancing the budget, cutting spending, reforming welfare, and enacting pro-growth policies to create millions of new jobs, and humbly ask for their vote.”

Recent opinion polls have shown Mr Gingrich cutting into Mr Romney’s lead, although he still trails Romney by about 10 percentage points.

But the former House Speaker’s ex-wife, Marianne, has made potentially damaging claims in a TV interview to be broadcast in full on Thursday evening.

In an excerpt of her remarks on ABC News’ Nightline programme, the former Mrs Gingrich says her ex-husband wanted her to share him with Callista Bisek, the woman who would become his third wife.

“He was asking to have an open marriage and I refused,” she said.

She claims he conducted the extramarital affair in the bedroom of their Washington apartment while she was away, and would call her at night to say he loved her, while sharing the bed with his then lover.

The interview could hurt Mr Gingrich in South Carolina, where religious and cultural conservatives are a big part of the Republican base.

Missing Iowa votes

Mr Perry had briefly reconsidered his campaign after finishing fifth in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation nominating contest this month, but ploughed on.

This ABC News Nightline exclusive released on 19 January 2012 shows Marianne Gingrich Marianne Gingrich’s claims about her ex-husband may leave his campaign on damage-limitation mode

He skipped the moderate New England state of New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina. But his message failed to take off even in that conservative southern state.

His departure follows on the heels of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and last month, Georgia businessman Herman Cain.

Mr Perry had faced calls in recent days to stand aside as rivals warned the conservative vote would fracture across the candidates, ultimately benefiting Mr Romney.

Mr Romney’s Mormon faith and political record as governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts is viewed with suspicion by some conservative Republicans.

Also on Thursday, the final results of the Iowa caucuses were certified as a split decision between Mr Romney and Christian conservative Mr Santorum because of missing data.

Mr Romney had initially been declared the winner of the 3 January nominating contest by eight votes.

But the final count shows Mr Santorum ahead by 34 votes, although no winner has been declared because the results from eight precincts are missing.

According to the certified vote totals, Mr Santorum won 29,839 votes while Mr Romney had 29,805. Mr Paul kept his third-place finish, with 26,036 ballots.

Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn announced the results at a news conference.

The Romney campaign called the outcome a “virtual tie”, while the Santorum campaign said it changed the narrative of the race.