Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich pulled a surprise win in the South Carolina primary on Saturday, throwing off expectations for the race for the GOP nomination.
Media outlets projected Gingrich would win the primary immediately upon close of the polls at 7 pm. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Gingrich captured 40.8 percent of the vote, or 243,153 of the total votes cases in the election. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in a distant second with 27.8 percent.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum was in third place with 17 percent of the vote. Coming in fourth was Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) with 13 percent.
In victory speech in South Carolina, Gingrich said he was seeking broad support for his campaign as he took a dig at President Obama.
“We want to run not a Republican campaign; we want to run an American campaign,” Gingrich said. “This is the most important election of our lifetime. If Barack Obama can get re-elected after this disaster — right — just think of how radical he would be in a second term.”
Immediately following Gingrich’s remarks on Obama, an audience member shouted, “No more years!”
Gingrich also alluded to Romney’s campaign without mentioning the former Massachusetts governor, saying, “We don’t have the kind of money that at least one of the candidates has.” According to the latest reports, Romney has raised $32.2 million, while Gingrich has raised only $2.9 million.
“But we do have ideas, and we do have people,” Gingrich said. “And we proved here in South Carolina that people power with the right ideas beats big money, and with your help, we’re going to prove it again in Florida.”
In his speech following the results, Santorum said his campaign was about importance of families, marriage and mothers and fathers. The candidate has been vocal about his opposition to same-sex marriage.
“If we are not the party that stands up to the truth about the importance of marriage, the importance of families, the importance of fatherhood and motherhood, the importance of those values of instilling of virtues in the next generation of children with faith, then we a party that no longer has a heart, and we not a party that’s going to be a majority party in this country,” Santorum said.
Earlier this week, Romney was polling ahead of other Republicans in the Palmetto State by double-digits and observers predicted he’d win the primary. But polls on Friday began showing Gingrich was ahead, leading to the win for the candidate.
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Gingrich’s win in South Carolina demonstrates the Republican Party is reluctant to embrace Romney as their standard-bearer.
“The GOP base south of the Mason-Dixon line has never been all that fond of Mitt Romney, but the fact that South Carolina voters gave such a lopsided victory to an ethically challenged, twice divorced, serial philanderer who resigned his last position of power in disgrace is just breathtaking,” Davis said. “Republican voters are starting to see Romney for what he really is: a corporate raider who has no core values of his own and will say anything to get himself elected. The not-Romney wing of the Republican party hasn’t won yet, but they struck a major blow tonight in the Palmetto State.”
Gingrich won the primary after Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race Thursday and threw his support behind the former U.S. House speaker. Perry was only polling in the single digits in South Carolina, but the shifted support from Perry to Gingrich likely contributed to the outcome of the contest.
Chris Barron, chief strategist for the gay conservative group GOProud, congratulated Gingrich and attributed his win to the candidate steering clear of negative attacks on Romney’s business career.
“It is clear that Speaker Gingrich’s poll numbers improved dramatically once he ended his unnecessary and unproductive attacks on Governor Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital,” Barron said. “As conservatives we should make it clear that we are the champions of free enterprise.”
The Gingrich win is likely troubling for Romney, who earlier this week was seen as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. That mantle was taken from him after a recount of the Iowa caucus revealed this week that Santorum had actually won there by 34 votes.
Gingrich faces obstacles to clamping down the Republican nomination, including his admitted marital infidelities.Earlier this week, Marianne Gingrich, the candidate’s second wife, said during an ABC News interview Gingrich wanted an open relationship during the marriage. The candidate later divorced her and married his current and third wife, Callista Gingrich, with whom he was having affair while in his second marriage.
Additionally, although Gingrich has been seen as an alternative to the more moderate Romney, socially conservative, evangelical leaders threw their support behind Santorum during a meeting in Texas last week.
The thrice-married Gingrich is an opponent of same-sex marriage and signed a pledge from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage committing himself upon election as president to backing a Federal Marriage Amendment, defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court and establishing a presidential commission on “religious liberty.”
Brian Brown, NOM’s president, congratulated Gingrich for his victory and noted each of the winners so far in the Republican presidential primaries adhere to the organization’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Paul hasn’t signed NOM’s pledge.
“NOM congratulates Newt Gingrich on his impressive come-from-behind victory in South Carolina,” Brown said. “We have had three different victors in state contests thus far — Rick Santorum in Iowa, Mitt Romney in New Hampshire and now Newt Gingrich in South Carolina. What all these states have in common is that they have picked candidates who have signed NOM’s Marriage Pledge They are all winners and NOM supports each of them.”
Romney also continues to lead in the national polls. A Gallup poll published Friday gave him a 10-point lead over Gingrich. However, the lead Romney enjoys has been diminished from the standing he enjoyed earlier this week, when he had a 23-point lead over both Gingrich and Santorum.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said the Florida Republican primary — set to take place Jan. 31 — will be a “greater mark” of who Republicans want to rally around as their nominee.
“Like all Republicans during primary season, Log Cabin Republicans, including our members in the Palmetto state, have differing views of who should be our nominee,” Cooper said “Unlike South Carolina, the demographics of Florida provide an electorate closer to what the nominee will face in the November general election.”