Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mary Ann Chastain)
Newt Gingrich jolted the US Republican presidential race on Saturday
with a convincing come-from-behind victory in South Carolina, where
voters rejected frontrunner Mitt Romney's pitch that he is the best bet
to fix a broken economy and defeat President Barack Obama.
Gingrich's win injects unexpected volatility into a Republican
nominating race that until this week appeared to be a coronation for
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and private-equity chief.
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different candidates now have won the first three contests in the
state-by-state battle for the Republican presidential nomination to face
Obama, a Democrat, on Nov. 6.
Former senator Rick Santorum won
the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and Romney won the New Hampshire primary on
Jan. 10. Gingrich fared poorly in both those states and had trailed
badly in South Carolina polls.
Riding a series of feisty debate
performances, Gingrich captured the lingering unease of conservative
voters in South Carolina who view Romney's moderate past and shifting
policy stances with suspicion. The former speaker of the US House of
Representatives argued that he would be able to better articulate the
party's conservative ideals.
With 65 percent of the vote counted,
Gingrich had pulled in 41 percent of the vote, followed by Romney with
26 percent, networks reported. Santorum was in third with 18 percent and
US congressman Ron Paul in fourth with 13 percent.
contrasted his sometimes-chaotic management style with Romney's
buttoned-down approach, arguing that his campaign was powered by ideas
rather than logistics.
US television networks declared Gingrich the winner shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m. EST.
have a very real chance on an idea basis as conservatives to offer a
better future for the American people. We have an ability to reach out
to lots of people and communicate with them without millions of dollars
of paid advertising," Gingrich said on Fox Business Network.
"This race is getting to be even more interesting," Romney told supporters.
now three contests into a long primary season," he added in a speech in
which he took several shots at Gingrich, including condemning
Republican rivals for assaulting free enterprise as they criticized his
Florida the next battleground
next contest is the Florida primary on Jan. 31. It will be the largest
state yet in the nomination battle and one that will require the
candidates to spend quite a bit of money on advertising.
starts off with a wide lead in the polls in Florida and a distinct edge
in logistics and fund-raising, which will be crucial in a state that has
10 separate media markets.
A drawn-out Republican contest would
likely help Obama as Republican candidates would continue to spend time
and money attacking each other.
Obama, who does not face a
primary challenger, will have his turn in the spotlight on Tuesday with
his State of the Union address. In a message to supporters on Saturday,
he said the speech would focus on "building an economy that works for
everybody, not just a wealthy few."
Animosity between Gingrich
and Romney has been festering since December, when a group supporting
Romney launched a blitz of negative TV ads in Iowa that effectively
ruined Gingrich's campaign there.
In South Carolina, a state with a reputation for rough and tumble politics, the gloves came off.
attacked Romney's business record and reluctance to release personal
tax information, while Romney pointed to Gingrich's past ethics lapses
and alluded to his messy personal life.
Voters said they were
overwhelmingly focused on fixing the sluggish economy and finding the
strongest candidate to defeat Obama. Some 78 percent said they were
"very worried" about the economy and 45 percent said that the most
important trait in a candidate was the ability to beat Obama, according
to exit polls released by CNN.
Those issues are the twin pillars of Romney's candidacy.
had developed an aura of inevitability after strong showings in the
first two nominating contests, and he led South Carolina polls by 10
percentage points a week ago.
He suffered a setback on Thursday
when Iowa officials declared in a recount that he had come in second
place in that state's Jan. 3 contest, behind Santorum, instead of
winning narrowly as initially announced.
Romney is among the
richest men ever to run for the US presidency and his stewardship of the
private equity firm Bain Capital has been criticized by Gingrich and
"If Republican leaders want to join this president in
demonizing success and disparaging conservative values then they are not
going to be fit to be our nominee," Romney told supporters.
said they viewed Romney's business background as an asset. But he
waffled this week when asked whether he would release his tax records,
and acknowledged that he pays a much lower tax rate than many Americans.