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Gingrich Surges to Victory in South Carolina Primary


Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich waves to the crowd with his wife Callista during a South Carolina Republican presidential primary night rally, Jan. 21, 2012, in Columbia, S.C.

Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich waves to the crowd with his wife Callista during a South Carolina Republican presidential primary night rally, Jan. 21, 2012, in Columbia, S.C.

Former U.S. congressman Newt Gingrich revived his presidential hopes Saturday with a convincing victory in South Carolina’s Republican primary.

Gingrich easily beat former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania and Congressman Ron Paul from Texas by drawing strong support from conservative Republican voters.

The Gingrich victory in South Carolina signals a wide-open, lengthy and potentially divisive battle for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

It was a jubilant Newt Gingrich who took the stage in front of cheering supporters after his victory in South Carolina. “We want to run not a Republican campaign. We want to run an American campaign!”

Gingrich offered some praise for his Republican rivals and turned his rhetorical fire instead on President Barack Obama, promising to run a strong general election campaign if he wins the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

Gingrich said, “What we are going to argue is that American exceptionalism, the American Declaration of Independence, the American Constitution, the American Federalist Papers, the founding fathers of America are the source from which we draw our understanding of America. He draws his from Saul Alinsky, radical left-wingers and people who don’t like the classical America!”

Gingrich trounced Mitt Romney with the support of conservative Republican voters in South Carolina. It is a victory he now hopes to repeat in state primary and caucus votes around the country.

The South Carolina results were a major disappointment for Romney, who had hoped to capitalize on his recent victory in the New Hampshire primary and take a giant step toward securing the nomination.

Gingrich’s sizeable margin of victory in South Carolina suggests that Romney still has a lot of work to do to win over conservative voters wary of his past moderate views as a governor and senate candidate in Massachusetts.

Romney tried to rally supporters in South Carolina after his second-place finish. “I don’t shrink from competition. I embrace it. I believe competition makes us all better and I know it is making our campaign stronger, and in the coming weeks the ideals of free enterprise and economic freedom will need a very strong defense and I intend to make it!”

Former senator Rick Santorum and Congressman Ron Paul both finished well behind Gingrich and Romney.

Santorum vowed to continue in the race as the only true social conservative among the four remaining contenders. He said, “Someone who can contrast on all of the issues that are important for America today, the ones that are going to decide this election, the ones of experiences on national security, the consistency on conservative principles that made this country great. I ask you. It is a wide open race. Join the fight! Thank you!”

Ron Paul also vowed to remain in the race for the foreseeable future and repeated his pledge to end U.S. military involvements abroad and cut foreign aid spending if elected. Paul said, “So if we want to spend the money, we should work hard to return the money from overseas spending to the people here in this country and they should spend the money!”

The Gingrich victory in South Carolina is significant because it signals what could be a lengthy and potentially divisive battle for the presidential nomination and the right to face off against President Obama in the November general election.

Political analyst Matthew Dowd told ABC television that Gingrich has upended expectations that Mitt Romney was on track to quickly secure the Republican nomination. “Newt still understands that he has an uphill battle going to Florida and going to these other states. But this takes a race that everybody thought, 'let’s crown Mitt Romney, he’s the inevitable nominee,' to a race that has now become wide open.”

Surveys of voters leaving the polling places in South Carolina found that Republican voters were most concerned with economic issues and finding the strongest candidate to run against Mr. Obama.

Romney has long argued that he would the stronger candidate to run in November because he would have more appeal to moderate voters. But the exit polls in South Carolina showed that more Republicans there believe that Gingrich would be a stronger general election candidate against the president.

The campaign focus now shifts to Florida for its primary on January 31st, and two more candidate debates are scheduled over the next week.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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