Gingrich wins South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina (CNN) — Newt Gingrich won Saturday’s South Carolina GOP presidential primary, marking a stunning turnaround for a candidate who finished fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire and whose campaign had been left for dead — again — by observers just weeks ago.
With about 95% of polling places reporting, Gingrich had 40% of the vote, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney getting 27% and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum getting 17%. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 13%. Based on early returns and exit polls, CNN projected Gingrich the winner.
In his victory speech to supporters, Gingrich thanked “everyone in South Carolina who decided to be with us in changing Washington.”
“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 — so many people who are so concerned about jobs, about medical costs, about the everyday parts of life, and who feel that the elites in Washington and New York have no understanding, no care, no concern, no reliability, and in fact do not represent them at all,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich, whose surge has been helped in part by two strong debate performances in South Carolina, said that if he’s resonating with voters, it’s not just because he’s a good debater.
“It’s that I articulate the deepest-held values of the American people,” he said.
Since the beginning of the modern GOP primary system in 1980, this is the first time that three different GOP candidates won nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The winner of the South Carolina primary, which this year is the third contest on the primary and caucus calendar, has gone on to win the Republican nomination in every election since 1980.
Less than a week ago, Romney, the New Hampshire winner, was looking at a double-digit lead in most polls of likely voters in South Carolina, a big lead in Florida and the possibility of a clear path to the GOP nomination. But Gingrich turned in two strong debate performances in the state this week while Romney was put on his heels by his rivals.
Romney congratulated Gingrich in remarks to his supporters after polls closed Saturday night.
“This race is getting to be even more interesting,” Romney said. “… We’re now three contests into a long primary season. This is a hard fight because there is so much worth fighting for.”
“Our campaign has fought very hard here in South Carolina, and in the coming weeks and months, I’ll keep fighting for every single vote. I will compete in every single state,” he said. “We’re going to win this nomination, and we’re going to defeat President Obama in November.”
Santorum, the Iowa winner, also congratulated Gingrich on Saturday night. Nearly an hour earlier, he told CNN that the battle between the first three contests’ winners is just beginning.
“The great narrative is that three days ago, there was an inevitability in this race,” Santorum said. “Mitt Romney was 2-0 (before Iowa officials switched the narrow Iowa result this week) and soon to be 3-0, and I took Iowa, Newt took South Carolina, and it’s game on again.”