By STEVE PEOPLES and WILL WEISSERT
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry ended his second bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Friday, becoming the first major candidate of the 2016 campaign to give up on the White House.
The longest-serving governor in Texas history told a group of conservative activists in St. Louis that "some things have become clear" and he was suspending his campaign.
"We have a tremendous field of candidates -- probably the greatest group of men and women," Perry said. "I step aside knowing our party is in good hands, as long as we listen to the grassroots, listen to that cause of conservatism. If we do that, then our party will be in good hands."
Dallas businessman and longtime Perry donor Roy Bailey said Friday that the former governor called him Thursday night and broke the news that he was planning to leave the race.
"He was very matter of fact, he was confident in his decision," Bailey said. "He hated it, because he's such a confident person, that that's what it came down to. He'll take a breather and jump back into life out of politics."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who took the stage at the Eagle Forum conference in St. Louis immediately after Perry announced his exit, called on the crowd to pray for Perry's future success.
"The only thing harder than to get into a race for something like president, is to make the decision to get out of the race," said Huckabee, the runner-up for the GOP nomination in 2008. "And I hope that all of you will recognize that it was a very difficult decision. I've been there before."
Four years after his first bid for the White House ended after disappointing finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Perry this time couldn't even make it to the second debate night of the 2016 race.
After failing to poll well enough to qualify for the featured primetime debate last month, Perry was again relegated to a pre-debate forum for the back of the pack at next week's debate at the Reagan Library outside Los Angeles.
He delivered a stronger performance at that first event than he did four years ago, when he couldn't remember the third federal agency he'd promised to close if elected and muttered, "Oops" -- a moment that doomed his bid in 2012.
But few noticed in a 2016 GOP campaign dominated by billionaire Donald Trump, who stole away Perry's Iowa campaign chairman after Perry was forced to suspend paying members of his staff as his campaign fundraising dried up.
"It'd be easy just to keep going, be easy to go do the debate next week, be easy to keep going to Iowa and South Carolina and other states and everything and taking your money and dragging it out," Bailey said.
But, Bailey said, "he could see it was pretty obvious to him he wasn't going to be the next presidential nominee from the Republican Party."
A group of super PACs, largely funded by three big Perry backers, had briefly kept Perry afloat by raising $17 million, hiring their own Iowa staff and producing television and digital ads and mailers. His decision Friday appeared to come as a surprise to those groups, which are barred from communicating directly with the campaign.
A pro-Perry super PAC emailed its supporters Friday morning saying it was back on television in Iowa to promote his candidacy. A Twitter message from the group sent later in the morning further emphasized, "In It For the Long Haul."
Weissert reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report from Washington.