Poll upset as New Gingrich wins South Carolina primary

 

Newt Gingrich stormed to a shock victory over Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary today, scrambling the race to choose a Republican challenger to President Barack Obama.

The win marks a dramatic turnaround from Mr Gingrich's earlier poor showing in the first two contests of the party's presidential race.

It sets up the likelihood that the contest, which Mr Romney once seemed poised to wrap up quickly, could drag on for months.

It also puts Mr Gingrich in a position to establish himself as the true conservative alternative to Mr Romney, who some Republicans see as too moderate.

Romney has benefited by having the conservative vote divided among Mr Gingrich, former senator Rick Santorum and Texas governor Rick Perry, who dropped out on Thursday.

An exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and US television networks showed Mr Santorum and congressman Ron Paul were far behind.

Gingrich led by a wide margin among the state's heavy population of conservatives, born-again Christians and supporters of the small-government tea party movement.

The poll by Edison Research involved interviews with 1,577 voters and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Mr Gingrich also won the support of voters who said they cared most about picking a candidate who could defeat Mr Obama. Mr Romney has made the claim that he is the most electable candidate a key part of his campaign.

Mr Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, once appeared poised to sweep the first three contests in the Republican race and become the all-but-inevitable nominee.

But what had appeared to be a narrow victory in the first contest, the Iowa caucuses, was later determined to by a narrow loss to Mr Santorum. He easily won the New Hampshire primary, but lost what had been a substantial lead in pre-election polls in South Carolina.

The conservative southern state has long been difficult territory for the former governor of the liberal north-eastern state of Massachusetts. He finished fourth there behind the eventual nominee, Senator John McCain, in the 2008 race.

Mr Gingrich pressed ahead despite poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, boosted by strong debate performances and shrugging off allegations by an ex-wife that he had once asked her for an open marriage so he could keep his mistress.

Mr Santorum's poor showing is a further sign he lacks the organisation and money to build on his Iowa victory. If he withdraws at some point, that could benefit Gingrich.

Mr Paul had not been expected to do well in South Carolina. While he has drawn many supporters to his libertarian, small-government message, his call to withdraw US troops from around the world was a tough sell in a state dotted with military installations and home to many veterans.

The vote was the climax to a tumultuous week in which Mr Romney was stripped of his Iowa triumph and contended with uncomfortable questions about his finances. Mr Perry and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman dropped out of the race.

Mr Romney, a multimillionaire former venture capitalist, responded awkwardly to questions about releasing his income tax returns, and about his investments in the Cayman Islands.

The Republican nominee is determined by a series of state-by-state contests to select delegates to the Republican National Convention in late August. Only 25 of the 2,286 delegates are at stake in South Carolina, but political momentum is the real prize.

As the first primary in a southern state, South Carolina has been a proving ground for Republican presidential hopefuls in recent years.

Since Ronald Reagan won in 1980, every Republican contender who won the primary has gone on to capture the party's nomination.

In all, more than 12 million dollars (£7.7m) 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.

Already, Mr Romney and a group that supports him were on the air in next-up Florida with a significant ad campaign, more than seven million dollars (£4.5m) combined to date. The state's primary is 31 January.

As Mr Gingrich's victory became apparent, he swiftly appealed to supporters for donations ahead of that contest.

"Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida. Join our Moneybomb and donate now," he tweeted.

Mr Romney told supporters he would compete for every vote in every state.

He criticised Mr Gingrich without naming him, saying his opponent was joining in on a frontal assault on free enterprise when he castigated Mr Romney's time at a private equity firm.

Mr Romney said his party could not choose someone who had never run a business or a state.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links