At times pausing to collect his emotions, Perry told supporters that he appreciated their work but that he needed to consider whether there was a viable strategy for him to restart his campaign in South Carolina.
"With the voters' decision tonight in Iowa, I decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight's caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race," Perry said, his family standing behind him.
Before Perry spoke, his advisers tried to paint the first contest in the South as the real start to his strategy and braced for a lackluster performance in the Iowa caucuses, which typically winnows the field of presidential hopefuls.
Perry entered the race in August to great fanfare only to nosedive. He had planned to make South Carolina his final stand, but the events he scheduled there for Wednesday were put on hold while he headed to Austin.
"With a little prayer and reflection, I'm going to decide the best past forward," he said. "But I want to tell you, there's been no greater joy in my life than to be able to share with the people of Iowa and this country that there is a model to take this country forward and it is in the great state of Texas."
Perry, who described himself as a reluctant White House hopeful, began the day acknowledging his campaign's challenges. He badly trailed his rivals in pre-caucus polls; the final Des Moines Register poll released Saturday night had him at just 11 percent support and trailing the four rivals who would best him.
His rivals had the advantage of several months or more to organize their campaigns. His entry in August came the same day his rivals competed in the Ames straw poll, an early test vote that lets each candidate's political machine have a trial run. Perry bypassed it and instead made a splash, announcing his candidacy in South Carolina and overshadowing the straw poll winner, Michele Bachmann.
Yet the on-ground organizing never came together for Perry in the short months of his campaign. Instead, he leaned on television ads and glossy mailers, a bus tour that took him to rural towns where he could practice the hand-to-hand campaigning in which he excels.
Even before Iowans met Tuesday night at churches and schools to signal their preferences, Perry was downplaying the role of the traditional lead-off states.
"The idea that one or two states is going to decide who the next nominee for the Republican Party is just, you know, that's not reality," Perry told CNN.
Perry's team put on hold events in South Carolina for Wednesday while he went to Austin with his family and tight inner-circle.
"The votes are the votes, and we're still early in the night so we'll wait and see in the morning what it looks like," he told Fox News Channel from an election night party that was slow to fill with supporters.
The Texas governor and former Air Force pilot compared the caucuses to a military campaign as he sought to give his volunteers an early morning jolt.
"This is Concord. This is Omaha Beach," he said. "This is going up the hill, realizing that the battle is worthy. This is about sacrifice. Every man and woman has sacrificed your time, your treasure, your reputation.
"But you're doing it out of love for this country," he continued. "That is what gets us up every day, gives us the courage, the fortitude, the focus to go do what we have done for the last almost six months."