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Gingrich Victory in South Carolina Leaves Republican Race Open

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.

Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina primary, a surprising turnaround after his poor showings in previous contests. VOA's Suzanne Presto has more from Columbia, South Carolina.

Newt Gingrich's supporters celebrated Saturday night.

The candidate targeted President Barack Obama and complimented his Republican rivals.

"If you look at the four of us, we are proof that you can come from a wide range of backgrounds and in America you have a chance to try to make your case no matter what the elites think in New York and Washington," he said.

The former speaker of the House of Representatives staged a surprising comeback months after his campaign staff quit, weeks after poor showings in other contests, and days after one of his ex-wives brought his extramarital affairs to the forefront.

But the candidate's personal life did not keep voters in this southern conservative state from casting ballots for him, like Trent Shealy.

"He does have baggage, but I don't think he's afraid to call other people out and I want to keep hearing that," said Shealy.

Nursing student William Bouknight predicted a Gingrich win.

"This is definitely a common sense state and I think he's the most common sense one we got," he said.

The Republican race now is wide open, with three different candidates taking the Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina nominating contests.

Some in the party hope the next primary in nearby Florida will be decisive. Voter Jeff Fitzharris:

"If it drags out longer than that, then I think they're detracting from each other," he said.

Third-place finisher Rick Santorum, a socially conservative former senator from Pennsylvania, this week was named the winner of the Iowa caucuses, instead of taking second place as originally announced.

"Three states, three winners! What a great country!" he said.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, long considered the Republican frontrunner, took second place here.

"We are now three contests into a long primary season and a hard fight because there is so much worth fighting for," he said. "We've got a long way to go and a lot of work to do and tomorrow we're going to move on to Florida!"

Gingrich and his rivals will now focus on the Florida primary on January 31.