The race for the Republican presidential nomination is experiencing new upheaval, on the eve of the upcoming primary in a conservative southern state. Texas Governor Rick Perry has quit the race and his endorsement of Newt Gingrich coincides with fresh allegations about the former House speaker's past extramarital affairs. Gingrich says the new allegations, made by his second wife, are untrue.
Paul Hines from Texas is used to attracting attention in his 1999 Plymouth Prowler. He drove it to an event in South Carolina to support his current favorite candidate, Newt Gingrich.
"It's been painted before. This is just about like the tenth version of it. We started out with Rick Perry and he didn't do very good. Then we switched over to Herman Cain, and he quit. And now we've got Newt Gingrich on here," Hines explained.
Hines isn't the only one to make that shift. Texas Governor Rick Perry himself knows he hasn't performed well.
"Therefore, today I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich for president. I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country. We have had our differences, which campaigns inevitably bring out," Perry stated. "And Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?
Gingrich is campaigning hard in South Carolina, and opinion polls show him gaining ground on Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney.
But even as Gingrich surges, there are new questions about his personal life. And that worries conservative voter Kit Boan. "I like Newt very much, I really do like Newt. But I think, you know, this news today about his second wife is pretty explosive," he said. "And it's very, very hurtful if it's true at all."
That news comes from Gingrich's second wife Marianne -- her claim that he once asked her to accept his extramarital affair with his then-mistress Callista. She's now his third wife and is a fixture on the campaign trail.
Boan says he likes Gingrich, but he is voting for Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, a Roman Catholic and the father of seven. "I'm going to vote my conscience. I feel like, you know, nobody is perfect, but at least he [Rick Santorum] thinks, I think, closer to my way of thinking as far as family values are concerned."
Voters in South Carolina have yet to rally around one single conservative candidate. Until Perry dropped out, he, Santorum and Gingrich had split the conservative vote, giving Romney an advantage.
Anti-abortion activist Johnny Gardner thinks yet another candidate is the best fit. "I'm definitely voting for Ron Paul. I believe he's the only man in the Republican Party that has any kind of a plan to outlaw abortion," he said.
Many expect social conservatives and religious-minded people to play a major role in the South Carolina primary.
American University professor Jennifer Lawless will be watching to see if those conservatives support Romney. "Romney did very well among conservative Republicans in New Hampshire. It wasn't only the moderates that brought him the victory. If conservatives in South Carolina also begin to support him, then that's a clear signal that the Republican electorate is beginning to coalesce around him, and it's virtually impossible for anyone else to garner that nomination," she stated.
But South Carolina's primary is simply the next step in the campaign season. Candidates and voters will soon be looking farther south to Florida's primary later this month.