**Written by Doug Powers
(Note: Scroll down for updates)
It’s finally the Palmetto State’s turn to weigh in:
Primary day at hand, fast-climbing Newt Gingrich told South Carolinians on Saturday that he was “the only practical conservative vote” able to stop front-runner Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential race. Romney acknowledged the first-in-the-South contest “could be real close” and prepared for an extended fight by agreeing to two more debates in Florida, next on the election calendar.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum braced for a setback and looked ahead to the Jan. 31 contest after getting the most votes in Iowa and besting Gingrich in New Hampshire. Texas Rep. Ron Paul made plans to focus on states where his libertarian, Internet-driven message might find more of a reception with voters; his campaign said it had purchased a substantial ad buy in Nevada and Minnesota, which hold caucuses next month.
The first contest without Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out this past week and endorsed Gingrich, was seen as Romney’s to lose just days ago. Instead, the gap closed quickly between the Massachusetts governor who portrays himself as the Republicans best positioned to defeat President Barack Obama and Gingrich, the confrontational former House speaker from Georgia.
Gingrich not only closed the gap quickly in S.C., but in a couple of polls I’ve seen he’s surpassed Romney:
According to an American Research Group survey released Saturday morning, 40% of people likely to vote in South Carolina’s GOP contest say they are backing the former House speaker, with 26% supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 18% backing Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and 13% supporting former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Will those numbers play out tonight? We’ll see. Any predictions? I think Newt will win, but not by that broad of a margin. Put me down for Gingrich 34 and Romney 30… maybe closer. Results should start coming in at 7:30 or 8 p.m. EST. I won’t be back home until about 10, so feel free to help keep everybody updated in comments if you’re watching.
Update: That ARG poll cited above was pretty much spot–on. Fox News is reporting that with all precincts in, Gingrich had 40%, Romney 28%, Santorum 17% and Paul 13%.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz issued a statement after Gingrich’s win, and it’s clear the Democrats are still convinced Romney is going to be the nominee, because DWS didn’t even mention Newt:
“If tonight proved one thing, it’s that the central rationale of Mitt Romney’s campaign is cratering. He came into South Carolina with a 20-point lead — a state where jobs and the economy is the No. 1 issue — and the candidate who hung his entire candidacy on these issues, Mitt Romney, saw his support collapse.
Why? Because Mitt Romney’s been exposed as being out of touch with the middle class, and voters are seeing that he lives by another set of rules. He’s refused to level with voters, and now he’s in trouble. Anyone who goes into a state with a significant double-digit lead yet ends up losing that support in a week, is someone who is failing to connect.”
What was the reason for Newt’s late S.C. surge? Among other things, maybe we shouldn’t discount the Sarah Palin nod a few days ago.
Here’s Gingrich addressing supporters after his win:
**Written by Doug Powers
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