NEWT GINGRICH STORMED stormed to an upset victory in the South Carolina primary last night, dealing a sharp setback to former front-runner Mitt Romney and abruptly scrambling the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
In victory, Gingrich praised his Republican rivals and attacked President Barack Obama and “elites in New York and Washington.”
Exit polls showed he led among voters who said their top priority was picking a candidate who could beat Obama — a group that had preferred Romney in earlier contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Romney, the national front-runner until now, was unbowed. He vowed to contest for every vote “in every state,” an acknowledgement that the race would likely be a long one. He also unleashed a double-barreled attack on Obama and Gingrich
Referring to Gingrich’s criticism of his business experience, Romney said, “When my opponents attack success and free enterprise, they’re not only attacking me, they’re attacking every person who dreams of a better future. He’s attacking you,” he told supporters, the closest he came to mentioning the primary winner’s name.
Returns from 95 percent of the state’s precincts showed Gingrich with 41 per cent of the vote to 27 per cent for Romney. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was winning 17 per cent and Ron Paul had 13 per cent.
As the first Southern primary, South Carolina has been a proving ground for Republican presidential hopefuls in recent years. Since Ronald Reagan in 1980, every Republican contender who won the primary has gone on to capture the party’s nomination.
Nearly 600,000 voters turned out, according to an AP estimate. That eclipses the previous record turnout for the primary in 2000, when George W. Bush defeated John McCain
Romney swept into South Carolina 11 days ago as the favorite after being pronounced the winner of the lead-off Iowa caucuses, then cruising to victory in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.
But in the sometimes-surreal week that followed, he was stripped of his Iowa triumph — GOP officials there now say Santorum narrowly won — while former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman dropped out and endorsed Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry quit and backed Gingrich
Romney responded awkwardly to questions about releasing his income tax returns, and about his investments in the Cayman Islands. Asked at a debate in North Charleston on Thursday about releasing his taxes, his answer was anything but succinct and the audience appeared to boo.
Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, benefited from two well-received debate performances while grappling with allegations by an ex-wife that he had once asked her for an open marriage so he could keep his mistress.
Rick Santorum vowed to continue, although his weak third place finish could well portend financial difficulty for a campaign that has never been flush with cash. It’s a wide-open race. Join the fight” he urged supporters at a rally in Charleston.
Ron Paul had his worst finish of the year, and isn’t expected to make a strong effort in Florida. Even so, he said to supporters, “Keep fighting.” He has said he intends to focus his efforts on caucus contests in Nevada on Feb. 4 and Missouri several days later
Gingrich had not flinched when ex-wife Marianne said in an interview on ABC that he had been unfaithful for years before their divorce in 1999, and asked him for an open marriage.
Asked about the accusation in the opening moments of the second debate of the week, he unleashed an attack on ABC and debate host CNN and accused the “liberal news media” of trying to help Obama by attacking Republicans. His ex-wife’s account, he said, was untrue.