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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: HR Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a keen...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this multi-ac...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat