U.S. presidential candidate Newt Gingrich wins South Carolina primary

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia won the Republican Party South Carolina presidential primary yesterday with 243,153 votes (40.4%). Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who won the New Hampshire primary last week, came in second with 167,279 (27.8%). The result reflects a shift in polling just days before the election, following two Grand Old Party (GOP) debates and a highly publicized interview with Gingrich's ex-wife.

In his victory speech, Gingrich criticized President Barack Obama and the "media elites", and alluded to the well-funded Romney when arguing, "We don't have the kind of money that at least one of the candidates does. But we do have ideas and we do have people and we've proved here in South Carolina that people power with the right ideas beats big money."

Romney, who had been criticized by Gingrich for his business practices as CEO of Bain Capital, commented after the results were announced, "Those who pick up the weapons of the left today will find them turned against us tomorrow...if Republican leaders want to join this president in demonizing success...then they're not going to be fit to be our nominee."

Gingrich with his wife Callista in January 2012.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

Just a week ago, Gingrich trailed Romney by ten points in South Carolina; however, Gingrich was thought to have been successful in the two debates before the primary. During the first on Monday, he received a standing ovation for his comments on race and employment, and on Thursday, received another standing ovation after criticizing moderator John King for discussing his previous marriage. Exit polls by CBS News indicated that 65 percent of voters believed the debates were an important factor in considering a candidate, with 13 percent saying it was the most important factor.

Moreover, those polls suggest Gingrich won broad support from the Tea Party and evangelicals, who questioned Romney's sincerity on social issues. They apparently decided to overlook an interview that aired just before the primary, in which Gingrich's ex-wife claimed Gingrich asked for an "open marriage".

According to Furman University political science professor Brent Nelsen, Gingrich "tapped the emotion of the right-wing electorate, and that washes away all of the questions."

Former Senator Rick Santorum, who, after a recent recount was found to have actually won the January 3 Iowa Caucus, finished in third place with 102,055 votes (17%). Congressman Ron Paul came in fourth with 77,993 (13%). Texas governor Rick Perry, who earlier withdrew from the race and endorsed Gingrich, finished sixth behind the withdrawn Herman Cain.

Historically, the winner of the South Carolina primary has gone on to win the Republican Party nomination; however, this is the first time three different candidates won the first three contests.

The result gives Gingrich 23 delegates, placing him first overall, ahead of Romney who has 19. Santorum is third with thirteen and Paul is fourth with three. The campaigns now shift to Florida for that state's January 31 primary. Romney currently leads in the latest polling.

According to Republican strategist Adam Temple, "Gingrich will carry momentum into Florida, but his campaign doesn't appear to be as durable for the long haul."


Candidate Votes Percentage Results by County
Newt Gingrich 243,153 40.4%

Image: Gage Skidmore.

██ Newt Gingrich

██ Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney 167,279 27.8%
Rick Santorum 102,055 17.0%
Ron Paul 77,993 13.0%
Herman Cain* 6,324 1.1%
Rick Perry* 2,494 0.4%
Jon Huntsman, Jr.* 1,161 0.2%
Michele Bachmann* 494 0.1%
Gary Johnson* 213 0.0%

* - Withdrew before the vote