- (Photo: REUTERS/Mary Ann Chastain)
- (Photo: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary Saturday, the third Republican presidential nomination contest.
Exit polls suggest that Gingrich could end up with about 40 percent of the vote. Mitt Romney will come in second place, followed by Rick Santorum in third place and Ron Paul in fourth place. Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman dropped out of the race earlier this week.
Gingrich's victory came after one of the most turbulent weeks in the campaign. He began the week behind Romney in the polls, but had two strong debate performances. Romney, on the other hand, was badgered by questions about releasing his tax returns and his work as a venture capitalist for Bain Capital.
On Thursday, Gingrich's ex-wife, Marianne, was interviewed by ABC and The Washington Post. She claimed that Gingrich had asked her for an "open marriage" so he could continue dating his mistress, and current wife, Callista.
Gingrich accused the media of impropriety for revealing the information. In Thursday night's debate, he told CNN moderator John King that it was despicable to ask him a question about the allegations in a presidential debate. The audience gave Gingrich a standing ovation for the remarks and he rose in the polls conducted the next day.
Exit polls conducted by CNN show that Gingrich won every age group, except those aged 18-29. Ron Paul won the young voters (32 percent), but they only represented about nine percent of the electorate.
Voters who described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians made up 65 percent of the electorate. Gingrich won a plurality of those voters (44 percent), while Romney won those who said they were not evangelical or born-again Christians (38 percent).
Sixty-five percent of voters said the debates were an important factor in their vote, and Gingrich won 50 percent of those voters.
Most voters, 45 percent, said the most important quality they wanted in a candidate was an ability to defeat Barack Obama. Of those, Gingrich won 51 percent of their vote.
Rick Santorum received the most support, 43 percent, from those who said they wanted a candidate with a strong moral character. Gingrich only received 6 percent of the votes from this group and they only made up 18 percent of the vote total.
South Carolina has 25 delegates. Gingrich will get 11 delegates for winning the state. The winner of each of South Carolina's seven congressional districts will get two delegates each.
The next contest will be Florida's Jan. 31 primary.