Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich surged to the front of the pack and pulled out a victory in South Carolina’s Republican primary tonight. Mr. Gingrich, whose performance in the polls over the last year has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, was immediately declared the winner by Fox News, ABC News and MSNBC when polls closed at 7pm.
The defeat is the second set back for Mr. Romney in two days. In addition to losing the Palmetto State, his win in Iowa was reversed yesterday to former Senator Rick Santorum, who finished tonight towards the bottom of the four candidates still competing for the Republican presidential nomination, along with Congressman Ron Paul.
On Thursday, Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out and endorsed Mr. Gingrich, giving the former House Speaker another boost to his unconventional campaign.
Despite emerging as the clear alternative to Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich still has an uphill climb to win his party’s nomination. South Carolina, with its large numbers of evangelical, conservative voters was a weak spot for Mr. Romney, who still maintains a lead in the next two states–Florida and Nevada.
Florida, the next primary contest on January 31st, will present a new set of challenges to the candidates. The state’s large population could strain campaign war chests as they spread their messages on the airwaves. And the primary demographics there contain larger segments of elderly and Latino voters than the campaigns have faced so far. Both Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney have already begun to air Spanish-language ads, and Mr. Romney has taken a more spirited defense of Social Security in the state.