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Gingrich wins South Carolina primary

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, accompanied by his wife Callista, center right, campaigns at Whitefordís Restaurant, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Laurens, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, accompanied by his wife Callista, center right, campaigns at Whitefordís Restaurant, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Laurens, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Reader poll

Of the remaining Republican presidential hopefuls, who has your vote?

  • Mitt Romney 32%
  • Newt Gingrich 42%
  • Rick Santorum 12%
  • Ron Paul 14%

219 total votes.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Newt Gingrich stormed to an upset win in the South Carolina primary Saturday night, dealing a sharp setback to Mitt Romney and scrambling the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

"Thank you, South Carolina!" Gingrich swiftly tweeted to his supporters. He appealed for a flood or donations for the next-up Jan. 31 primary. "Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida. Join our Moneybomb and donate now," he tweeted.

Already, Romney and a group that supports him were on the air in Florida with a significant ad campaign, more than $7 million combined to date. Romney had hoped that Florida would seal his nomination — if South Carolina didn't first — but that strategy disappeared Saturday night.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul trailed badly in the South Carolina voting.

Exit polling showed Gingrich, the former House speaker, leading by a wide margin among the state's heavy population of conservatives, tea party supporters and born-again Christians.

For the first time all year, Romney trailed among voters who said they cared most about picking a candidate who could defeat President Barack Obama this fall. Gingrich was ahead of the field for those voters' support.

There were 25 Republican National Convention delegates at stake, but political momentum was the real prize with the race to pick an opponent to President Barack Obama still in its early stages.

In all, more than $12 million was spent on television ads by the candidates and their allies in South Carolina, much of it on attacks designed to degrade the support of rivals.

Interviews with voters as they left polling places showed nearly half saying their top priority was finding a candidate who could defeat Obama in the fall, followed by wishes for experience, strong moral character and true conservatism.

In a state with 9.9 percent unemployment, concern about the economy was high, and almost one-third of those voting reported a household member had lost a job in the past three years.

The exit poll was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left polls at 35 randomly selected sites. The survey involved interviews with 1,577 voters and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, 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 Gov. 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. 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.

By primary eve, Romney was speculating openly about a lengthy battle for the nomination rather than the quick knockout that had seemed within his grasp only days earlier.

One piece of primary day theater failed to materialize when the two men avoided crossing paths at Tommy's Ham House in Greenville, packed with partisans holding signs that read either "Romney" or "Newt 2012."

Romney rolled in earlier than expected, and had left by the time Gingrich arrived.

Santorum got a lift hours before the polls closed when the Iowa Republican Party declared him the winner of the caucuses on Jan. 3. Romney was pronounced the victor by eight votes initially, but on Thursday, party officials said a recount showed Santorum ahead by 34. Even so, they declared the outcome a tie.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, pinned his South Carolina hopes on a heavy turnout in parts of the state with large concentrations of social conservatives, the voters who carried him to his surprisingly strong showing in Iowa.

Paul had a modest campaign presence here after finishing third in Iowa and second in New Hampshire. His call to withdraw U.S. troops from around the world was a tough sell in a state dotted with military installations and home to many veterans.

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.

Romney's stumbles began even before his New Hampshire primary victory, when he told one audience that he had worried earlier in his career about the possibility of being laid off.

He gave a somewhat rambling, noncommittal response in a debate in Myrtle Beach last Monday when asked if he would release his tax returns before the primary. The following day, he told reporters that because most of his earnings come from investments, he paid about 15 percent of his income in taxes, roughly half the rate paid by millions of middle-class wage-earners. A day later, aides confirmed that some of his millions are invested in the Cayman Islands, although they said he did not use the offshore accounts as a tax haven.

Asked again 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 benefited from a shift in strategy that recalled his approach when he briefly soared to the top of the polls in Iowa. At mid-week he began airing a television commercial that dropped all references to Romney and his other rivals, and contended that he was the only Republican who could defeat Obama.

It featured several seconds from the first debate in which the audience cheered as he accused Obama of having put more Americans on food stamps than any other president.

Nor did Gingrich flinch 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.


Associated Press writers Shannon McCaffrey, Kasie Hunt and Beth Fouhy contributed to this report.

Comments

DavidBrown 2 years, 11 months ago

Newt Gingrich's victory in South Carolina demonstrates how Christians have abandoned their principles on the altar of political power. My fellow Christians used to be the party which preached its adherence to the sanctity of marriage and family values. I am appalled that my fellow Christians would now select a thrice-married adulterer over a man, Mitt Romney, with one marriage of 42 years. One thing I can commend President Obama for is that he has only one marriage of 19 years. Just think, if Newt Gingrich becomes our President, we will have a first lady who is an adulterer also. Calista admitted to having an affair with Newt, knowing full well he was married at the time.

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Mack711 2 years, 11 months ago

Gingrich won because he stood up and dared to say what everyone else on that stage knew about the media but was afraid to say. To be honest is one thing speaking your mind in the media 'poiiticial correct' society is dangerous. He is speaking with his heart and attacking the Obama media.

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Cleanupguy 2 years, 11 months ago

Business as usual for Newt - find someone else to blame for his own gross failures to take the ugly spotlight away from him. His own Grand Old Party party booted him from the Speaker that job he ironically wears like a badge of honor. The idea guy - like space mirrors to replace street lights and mining minerals on the moon. This is more of a cartoon character than presidential material - ask any of his ex-wives.

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Sthrnldy 2 years, 11 months ago

Can you please post your resume regarding your 28 years of Republican political campaign successes with your stellar 95% success rate? I am sure that everyone that contributes to these discussuions wants to hear more about the legend, Cleanupguy, that graces us with his presense. You must have your very own Wikipedia page!

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NewsReader 2 years, 11 months ago

Business as usual for Cleanupguy; your quintessential definition of a one trick pony. Hack and Troll all rolled up into one? Why don’t you put one of your past 28 years (95% success rate) candidates on the forefront, so we can all go vote for him/her? What was it you were saying about leaving all of your blowharding behind now? You crack me up Cleanupguy. You really do.

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Cleanupguy 2 years, 11 months ago

One trick is better than none. Again, the intellectual strength of your argument and the excellent constructive insightfulness is overwhelming, representative of everything that wrong in politics today. In fact Newt was ousted by his own party (88% supported it) for ethics violations, and those were in fact some of his great ideas noted. Shooting the messenger is an old Gingrich trick which accomplishes nothing. This time my candidate will be a shoe-in.

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Sthrnldy 2 years, 11 months ago

Still waiting to hear from Cleanupguy regarding his past (and obviously present) blowharding as well. I would like him to post links regarding his credentials as the political genius he claims to be.

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nicholson 2 years, 11 months ago

Since South Carolina's primary was an open primary, I am guessing that many Democrats voted for Gingrich, as Romney would be the tougher candidate in the fall for Obama to defeat due to Romney's support from independents. The ultra conservatives that voted for Gingrich so that he can debate Obama are forgetting one important factor - in most recent history, the presidential debates have not decided the election, it has been more about the likability factor; George W Bush didn't convincingly win the debates in either of his elections, but he was the more likeable, down to earth guy. Same goes for the McCain/Obama debates. Even Newt himself admits he is not the most likeable guy.

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