Republican hopeful Rick Perry received no sympathy from LGBT advocates on Thursday after he announced that he giving up a presidential campaign renowned for its demonization of gay people.
Trailing in the polls — even in the socially conservative state of South Carolina where the primary will be held Saturday — Perry told supporters in North Charleston, S.C.., he was ending his bid for the White House and throwing his support behind former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“As I’ve contemplated the future of this campaign, I have to come to the conclusion that there is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign,” Perry said. “Therefore, today, I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich for president of the United States.”
Perry called Gingrich a “conservative visionary who can transform our country.”
In likely reference to Gingrich’s marital infidelities, Perry said Gingrich is “not perfect,” adding “there is forgiveness for those who seek God, and I believe in power of redemption, for it is a central tenet of my Christian faith.”
But the thrice-married Gingrich came under additional scrutiny following Perry’s exit on Thursday when media outlets published interviews with Marianne Gingrich, his second wife, who said the former House speaker had asked her for an open marriage.
Perry’s exit and new support for Gingrich could give the former House speaker a fighting chance in South Carolina, where the candidate has been encroaching on Romney in the polls.
The three-term Texas bows out of the presidential race after heavily courting the evangelical vote and espousing anti-gay positions throughout his presidential campaign.
The unofficial kick-off of his campaign took place in August at controversial day of prayer called “The Response” that was attended by an estimated 30,000 people. The event was reportedly financed by the anti-gay American Family Association.
Upon officially entering the presidential race, Perry signed a pledge from the National Organization for Marriage committing himself to back a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. During in a speech New Hampshire, he praised efforts to repeal the same-sex marriage law in the state.
But Perry began pulling out the stops with anti-gay campaign tactics when fell from his status as front-runner to the bottom of the pack after poor debate performances and a series of gaffes — most notably when he forgot during a debate the third in a group of departments that he would eliminate as president.
In a Iowa TV ad called “Strong,” which was widely circulated on the Internet, in which Perry says, “There’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
Perry also criticized President Obama’s decision to require his administration to have more active engagement against anti-gay human rights abuses, saying the act was an example of “an administration at war with people of faith in this country.” The candidate also riled LGBT advocates when he said during a CNN interview he would “absolutely” reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if elected president.
During an event in Deborah, Iowa, an 14-year-old bisexual woman challenged Perry over his views on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but was dismissed by the candidate.
“This is about my faith, and I happen to think that, you know, there are a whole hosts of sins — homosexuality being one of them,” Perry said.
LGBT advocates said Perry inability to rise in the polls after he made anti-gay campaign tactics part of his campaign is evidence they don’t appeal to voters.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, was among those chiding Perry for his approach to LGBT issues over the course of his campaign.
“Governor Perry distinguished himself by trying to use LGBT issues as a campaign weapon and it didn’t work,” Cole-Schwartz said. “It’s just another sign that going anti-gay doesn’t pay dividends, even in conservative-leaning primaries.”
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said the 2012 election is about “liberty and prosperity” and Perry didn’t have the capacity to unite conservatives and win the general election.
“Tactical blunders such as his ‘Strong’ video exposed a disconnect with the general electorate and the average Republican voter,” Cooper said. “Our nation was built upon individual liberty and individual responsibility, and open service by gay and lesbian servicemembers is directly in line with the vision of our Founding Fathers.”
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Perry had “embarassed” himself throughout his campaign and his exit from the race was in line with that behavior.
“As the final act of idiocy in his quixotic bid for the GOP nomination, Perry chose to endorse Newt Gingrich — a thrice married serial philanderer who demanded an open marriage with one of his previous wives,” Davis said. “It just goes to show how closely he holds his much touted ‘family values.’ Then again, maybe he just forgot who else was in the race. Oops!”