Elections 2012: Newt Gingrich Wins Big in South Carolina Primary

Newt Gingrich handed Mitt Romney a stunning defeat in South Carolina on Saturday, adding a shocking twist to the Republican primary race that had seemed on a path to anoint the former Massachusetts governor.

Surprising his rivals and scrambling the Republican race for the presidency, Newt Gingrich won the pivotal South Carolina primary Saturday, just 10 days after a distant finish in New Hampshire left the impression that his candidacy was all but dead. Photo: Europa Press/Flickr

Newt Gingrich defeated Mitt Romney today to win today’s South Carolina primary, boosted by a fiery debate performance this week that deflated the former governor’s front-runner status overnight, ABC reports.

As soon as the polls closed in South Carolina at 7 p.m., the major TV networks called the race for Gingrich.

With 100 percent of the vote counted, Gingrich was at 40.4 percent to Romney’s 27.9 percent, with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) at 17 percent and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) at 13 percent, according to The Huff Post.

“It is very humbling and very sobering to have so many people who so deeply want their country to get back on the right track,” an emotional Gingrich, surrounded by family members, told his raucous supporters as they chanted “Newt can win!”in a crowded and stuffy balloom of the Hilton hotel in Columbia, the state capital.

“Thank you South Carolina! Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida,” Gingrich tweeted soon after the race was called, directing people to where they could give money to his campaign.

South Carolina is an important race in the Republican primaries. No candidate has ever won the GOP nomination for president without winning South Carolina since 1980, when it became home to the nation’s first-in-the-South primary.

A sombre-looking Romney was unbowed. He vowed to battle for every vote in every state and unleashed a two-pronged attack on President Barack Obama and Gingrich simultaneously.

“This race is getting to be more interesting,” Romney told his backers at the Moore Building of the South Carolina State Fairgrounds, according to CBC.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum finished well back in third place, and Texas congressman Ron Paul a distant fourth.

The primary now appears to be a two-man race. Gingrich, who was until very recently something of a one-man campaign, is riding a wave of genuine momentum that is buffeting the Romney machine.

Gingrich has emerged as the fighter that many Republican voters want to see defeat President Obama. Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney has looked weak and uninspiring.

All eyes will now focus on Florida, where Romney maintains a strong lead, to see whether Gingrich’s win is an anomaly or the beginning of a truly competitive race.

But Florida is the first big primary state that requires vast amounts of money to reach voters through advertising, and which can logistically test even the best run campaigns. In addition to the polling, Romney has a decided edge going into Florida.

More than $7 million has already poured into Florida on Romney’s behalf this month: $2.5 million in TV ads from his campaign, $1 million in mail, and a reported $3.6 million in TV from a super PAC supporting Romney. The super PAC, Restore Our Future, has also spent an unknown amount on mail in Florida.

Now Gingrich faces the challenge of taking his campaign national. Although he does have large donor connections, his financial resources will be no match for the Romney machine.

Gingrich ran into his own trouble, namely confronting allegations from his ex-wife Marianne that he had sought an “open marriage” that would include his lover, and now third wife, Callista. But the allegations seemed to have little impact on his popularity in the heavily conservative state.

Four states will hold caucuses in early February: Nevada on Feb. 4, Colorado and Minnesota on Feb. 7, and Maine’s Republicans will hold caucuses for a week with the results being announced on Feb. 11.

Caucus states require higher levels of organization to win, and only Romney and Rep. Paul (R-Texas) have done so in those states. Other than Missouri’s non-binding Feb. 7 primary, there is nothing else until Feb. 28, when Arizona and Michigan have their primaries.

Washington caucuses on March 3. And then 11 states will hold primaries or caucuses on Super Tuesday, March 6.

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