GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Two prominent conservatives on Wednesday called on Texas Gov. Rick Perry to exit the presidential race and throw his support behind another candidate. But his campaign staff said Perry will compete in the South Carolina primary on Saturday.
On his influential RedState.com website, Republican author Erick Erickson called South Carolina "Rick Perry's final act in the 2012 elections" and called on him to get out and endorse former House Speaker Newt Gingrich before the CNN candidates' debate on Thursday night, saying it would be Perry's "trump card."
"I'm willing to bet that among activists in Texas, Newt Gingrich is more popular than Romney. His message has been rather consistent to Perry's, including a man on a mission to gut Washington, D.C. While Gingrich lacks Perry's limited-government bona fides, he is the only other candidate in the race emphasizing that business as usual in Washington is not acceptable if the nation we love is going to survive," Erickson wrote, noting as well that Gingrich wrote the forward to Perry's book, Fed Up!
Conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham also called for Perry to step aside for other candidates to try to consolidate the anti-Romney vote - those voters who do not believe front-runner Mitt Romney meets the criteria of a true conservative. "It's time for Rick Perry to drop out of the race -- he is only helping Romney by splitting the vote," she wrote.
Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner insisted to reporters that Perry is staying in the race through Saturday. "Pundits aren't going to decide this race, the people of South Carolina are going to decide this race," he told reporters. "We are in this primary to win it and will continue campaigning."
Erickson said Perry risks being blamed for the party's failure to nominate a conservative to run against President Obama in the fall.
"If Rick Perry stays in the race, conservatives opposed to Mitt Romney will be legitimately able to blame Rick Perry for dragging down either Newt or Santorum," he wrote. "If the person he endorses doesn't win the nomination, it still doesn't hurt him as much as staying in to take a few deciding votes."
He argued that Perry's support for Gingrich could offset the support that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman lent to Romney when he dropped out of the race earlier this week after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary. Of the two contests held so far, Perry finished last in the Iowa caucuses and did not compete in New Hampshire.
A CNN poll released Wednesday showed Romney leading in South Carolina, with 33 percent of likely GOP voters, and Gingrich in second place with 23 percent. Perry was in last place in the poll, with 6 percent.