Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has surged to a stunning win over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential primary, a come-from-behind victory that signals the GOP White House race – which as recently as a week ago seemed to be Romney’s to lose -- is now far from over.
Gingrich’s strong showing is a major upset over Romney, the GOP frontrunner who had been looking to a solid win in South Carolina as a key step toward sealing the nomination. It’s a win that appears to be fueled in large part by what voters perceived as the former speaker’s strong performance in recent debates, according to Saturday’s exit polls – even as Gingrich faced a tumultuous recent few days in the race.
Since 1980, the winner of the South Carolina primary has gone on to win the GOP presidential nomination. That means Gingrich’s primary win is a significant one -- and the conventional wisdom that Romney is his party’s inevitable nominee could well be shattered.
» In South Carolina, a tightly sharpened race
» Romney to participate in Florida debates
» Newt Gingrich’s woman problem
» South Carolina: Five counties to watch
» South Carolina primary pre-game and results
10 p.m. | Gingrich praises rivals, takes aim at 'elites'
In politics, as the saying goes, never punch down.
In his South Carolina victory speech Saturday night, Newt Gingrich took those words to heart – a sign that the former House speaker now views himself as the GOP presidential frontrunner after his win over Mitt Romney.
Gingrich, who addressed supporters at the Hilton Hotel in Columbia shortly before 9:30 p.m., heaped praise on his three GOP rivals – former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and even Romney, with whom Gingrich has been engaged in a bitter battle for the top spot in the first-in-the-South primary.
Santorum showed “enormous courage” in Iowa and has been a leader on social issues and Iran, Gingrich said.
Paul “has been right for 25 years” on the issues of money and the Federal Reserve, he said.
“And finally, Governor Romney, with whom I disagree on many issues, is nonetheless a good example of America,” Gingrich continued. “He’s hardworking. He has been very successful. He has organized large system. He did a terrific job at the winter Olympics.”
The strategy was a markedly different one from the one Romney employed in his primary-night speech, in which he spent a significant amount of time blasting both Gingrich and President Obama.
Of his South Carolina victory, Gingrich called it “very humbling and very sobering to have so many people who so deeply want their country to get back on the right track.”
“It’s not that I am a good debater. It’s that I articulate the deepest-felt values of the American people,” he said.
The remainder of his Saturday night speech was similar to his stump speech – focused heavily on “elites” and on Obama, to whom Gingrich reissued his challenge to “seven three-hour debates.”
“The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky,” Gingrich said. Alinsky was an influential community organizer based in Chicago.
Gingrich took aim at the news media as well as the “growing anti-religious bigotry of our elites.”
“So many people who are so concerned about jobs, about medical costs, about the everyday parts of life and feel that the elites in Washington and New York have no understanding, no care, no concern and no reliability and in fact do not represent them at all,” he said.
One of his biggest applause lines of the night was not an attack, however, but a call for optimism.
“We want to run not a Republican campaign,” he said. “We want to run an American campaign, because we are optimists about the future, because America has always been optimistic about the future.”
9:55 p.m. | South Carolina lesson: Debates matter
The Fix just his top five lessons learned in the South Carolina primary. Lesson number one:
1. Debates matter. A lot.: Fifty-two percent of the South Carolina primary electorate said that the recent debates were one of the most important factors in deciding their vote. Of that group, Gingrich beat Romney 47 percent to 24 percent.
Here’s a chart from our Polling team that shows just how big a boost Gingrich got from his debate performances.
9:48 p.m. | Newt Gingrich gives victory speech, attacks 'elites'
A jubilant Newt Gingrich greeted his supporters with his wife Callista standing by his side. Continuing with his debate argument against the media, Gingrich spent a large portion of his speech criticizing the elites in Washington and New York.
9:30 p.m. | South Carolina primary map shows Gingrich's dominance
As The Post’s Chris Cillizza tweeted, “Newt now looks likely to beat Romney by double digits.” With more than three-fourths of the precincts reporting election results, the map of Gingrich’s win is impressive. Gingrich’s results are in red, Romney’s in yellow. Follow along with all our primary tracker here.
9:14 p.m. | Santorum supporters get glitter-bombed>
The Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman reports from Charleston that a small group of Occupy protesters inflitrated Rick Santorum’s party at the Citadel in Charleston. They threw glitter on supporters as his speech ended, a tactic used by those who support gay rights. They were forcebly hustled from the auditorium by Santorum staffers, including his campaign manager, as they shouted, “Occupy! Occupy!” and “Stop the hate!”
9:10 p.m. | Rick Santorum: 'It's a wide-open race'
“Three states. Three winners. What a great country,” former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum told supporters in his primary-night speech.
He made it clear that he’s intending to push forward to Florida despite his third-place finish tonight, telling supporters, “It’s a wide-open race.”
And in a primary race that has been quite nasty to date – both in the debates and on the airwaves – Santorum said he’s going to run a campaign that’s positive.
“This campaign is not going to be about tearing everybody down,” he said. “It’s not going to be about negative ads.”
That may be easier said than done in Florida, where Mitt Romney has been up on the air for weeks – and has the warchest to dominate his rivals in the ad wars.
8:48 p.m. | Ron Paul: the beginning of a long, hard slog (video)>
8:40 p.m. | Ron Paul: Message of liberty is being received
Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) is headed toward a fourth-place finish tonight, taking 13 percent in the polls with about 40 percent of all precincts reporting.
And yet, his primary-night address sounded like a victory speech if there ever was one.
“The message of liberty is being received by more people every single day thanks to your efforts,” Paul said to cheers from supporters. He added that he’s going full steam ahead to the upcoming contests, with a particular focus on caucus states such as Nevada.
“We will be going to the caucus states and we will be promoting the whole idea of getting more delegates, because that’s the name of the game,” Paul said.
He noted that this time around, his campaign is winning “four to five times more votes than we did four years ago” in the Palmetto State. The numbers so far bear that out: In 2008, Paul placed fifth in South Carolina with about 16,000 votes; this year, with 40 percent reporting, Paul was winning about 30,000 votes.
8:15 p.m. | Mitt Romney gives concession speech
In his primary-night remarks to supporters, Mitt Romney previewed his argument against Newt Gingrich heading into the rest of the GOP nominating contest – blasting the former House speaker for “demonizing success” and joining in what he casts as Democrats’ “assault on free enterprise.”
“Those who pick up the weapons of the left today will find them turned against us tomorrow,” Romney said. It’s a line that he’s likely to reprise as the campaign makes its way to Florida, which holds its primary on Jan. 31.
Casting Gingrich’s win as a good thing for the party as a whole, Romney notes that “we’re now three contests into a long primary season” and tells the crowd, “this is a hard fight because there’s so much worth fighting for.”
“I don’t shrink from competition; I embrace it,” he said.
He divided his speech between criticism of Gingrich (although not by name) and of President Obama (several times by name), arguing that the ideals of free enterprise and economic freedom “will need a strong defense, and I intend to make it.”
“We’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of work to do, and tomorrow we’re going to move on to Florida,” he said. “It’s a state that has suffered terribly under the failed policies of President Obama.”
He also opined: “Now this race is getting to be even more interesting.”
That’s for certain.
7:55 p.m. | Gingrich 'kicked butt,' Santorum says
In an appearance on CNN, former senator Rick Santorum congratulated Newt Gingrich, who he said “kicked butt” in today’s South Carolina primary.
“Congratulations to Newt,” Santorum told CNN’s Dana Bash. “It’s a great victory for him. He staked his flag here in South Carolina, said he had to win here. And he kicked butt. ... The great narrative of this is that three days ago there was an inevitability in this race ... I took Iowa, Newt took South Carolina, and it’s game on again. I can’t be more excited for the opportunity now to see this campaign go on, and we’re going to have it go on for a long time.”
Asked why his own campaign didn’t perform as well as he’d hoped, Santorum pointed in part to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to drop out of the race and endorse Gingrich this week.
“With Perry dropping out and endorsing Newt, I just think there was a momentum [for Gingrich]. ... We think for the long term we’re going to be in much stronger shape,” he said.
“This race is going to be a long one, and it’s going to be the best thing that could happen for whoever the eventual Republican nominee is,” Santorum added.
The Post’s Rosalind Helderman reports from a Santorum party that there were scattered cheers from Santorum supporters when “Fox News shows screen with their guy in third — not fourth.”
Romney, meanwhile, is expected to address supporters shortly.
7:40 p.m. | 'I think this is the most important state vote in my history'>
Post photographer Nikki Kahn documents the scene in Columbia, S.C., where Newt Gingrich is poised to address supporters this evening. Above, Barbara Marks, 78, of Laughlin, Nevada, made the drive from her home four days ago to take in the South Carolina primary.
“I think this is the most important state vote in my history,” Marks said as she awaited an appearance by Gingrich in Columbia.
Below, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) chats with reporters at the Hilton Hotel in Columbia. View more photos.
7:29 p.m. | Newt Gingrich tweets his thanks to South Carolina
Just 25 minutes after polls closed, Newt Gingrich acknowledged his win in a tweet, asking followers to contribute to his campaign for the Florida primary. The Florida vote will take place in 10 days.
The Gingrich campaign used a promoted tweet, an ad buy on Twitter that makes the fundraising message appear at the top of any search on Twitter for “Newt Gingrich.” Romney’s campaign used a promoted tweet this morning that is still at the top of the search results for “Mitt Romney.” It reads, “Today is the South Carolina Primary. You can make the difference .”
7:25 p.m. | Washington Post calls primary for Gingrich
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich stormed to victory in South Carolina’s primary tonight, a win that virtually ensures the Republican presidential nomination fight will continue for weeks to come.
7:20 p.m. | Gingrich: 'I'm pretty happy to campaign in Florida'
Moments after several TV networks proclaimed him the winner in South Carolina, former House speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox Business Network that he’s looking forward to the next phase of the campaign – the Jan. 31 Florida primary.
“The momentum as of tomorrow morning will be pretty decisive,” Gingrich told FBN’s Neil Cavuto in a phone interview from South Carolina. “Second, we have Jose Mallea, who was Marco Rubio’s campaign director, running our campaign in Florida. And I think Jose has a pretty firm understanding of Florida. And we have Bill McCollum, former attorney general, the chairman leading the effort down there. And I’ve got a daughter who lives in Key Biscayne who has terrific ties. ... So I’m pretty happy to campaign in Florida.”
At times over the past few weeks, Gingrich has suggested that former senator Rick Santorum should drop out of the race – but on Saturday he said that his GOP rival should keep running for as long as he wants.
“Folks said I was dead back in June and July. People could’ve told me to drop out,” he said. “So, it wouldn’t be appropriate. I think Rick should stay in as long as he wants to. He’s a bright guy. He’s been a great leader. I’m very much sympathetic to him on manufacturing policy; I’m very much sympathetic to him on the policies he has on social issues. And I very much respect and value his leadership on the issue of Iran. So he’s a great guy, and he ought to stay as long as he wants to.”
But Gingrich added that what the primary campaign is going to come down to in the end, in his view, is a two-man race between himself and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who he blasted as out-of-step with the GOP’s conservative base:
“In the end, sooner or later, it’s going to become Romney versus Gingrich, and then the natural conservative Republican Party is going to repudiate a Massachusetts moderate whose actual record is, frankly, pretty liberal,” Gingrich said.
7:20 p.m. | Exit polls reveal why Gingrich is beating Romney
Why is Gingrich in the lead? A roundup of exit poll data from our polling team:
Debates: They had a major impact on voters here according to preliminary exit polls. Among those who said they were the “most important factor” in making their decision, Newt Gingrich won a whopping six in 10, leaving other candidates in the dust. It’s his single strongest group of support.
Beating Obama: Unlike in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich beats Mitt Romney among those who prioritize an ability to win in November over other candidate qualities. Early exit polling shows this is a big hunk of the electorate and Gingrich is topping Romney. Romney won “electability” voters in the two previous contests by overwhelming margins (63 to Gingrich’s 11 in NH, and 48 to 20 in Iowa).
Dissatisfaction with Romney: Preliminary exit polls show just about four in 10 primary voters say they would enthusiastically support Romney if he became the party’s nominee, while a somewhat more would back him, but with reservations. About one in 10 say they wouldn’t back him at all. Gingrich cleaned up among voters with reservations on Romney, winning more than half of their votes. Paul won over four in 10 voters who say they wouldn’t back Romney at all in a general election.
Religious right: Though fewer say candidates say religious beliefs were a factor in their vote than in 2008, Gingrich leads by a wide margin among these voters in preliminary exit poll data. He also leads by a wide margin among evangelical Christians, who make up a big majority of the electorate. Romney has doubled his share of the evangelical vote from 2008, but as in Iowa he is much stronger among non-evangelical voters. In all, nearly three-quarters of Gingrich’s support in South Carolina comes from evangelicals; just half of Romney’s does.
Little gender gap on Gingrich: Despite recent allegations that Gingrich offered his ex-wife an “open marriage,” preliminary exit polls show he receives nearly as much support from women as men in South Carolina. He does hold a somewhat larger advantage among men.
Late deciders: Gingrich’s debate performances in the past week may have won over late-deciding voters. In preliminary exit polls, more than half of voters say they decided in the closing days of the campaign, and Gingrich holds a roughly 20-point lead in this group. Romney matches Gingrich among those who decided earlier.
Strong tea party supporters: They’ve been loyal to Gingrich in national polling and they are delivering for Gingrich in SC. He nearly doubles Romney support among this large voting group
Older voters: Gingrich is neutralizing Romney’s advantage among older voters in South Carolina, beating him among those ages 45 and older. Paul runs strong about voters under age 30.
Bain:Nearly two thirds of voters in preliminary exit polls say they have a positive view of Romney’s business background, while just under three in 10 have negative views. Among those who hold positive views, Romney edges Gingrich by only about seven points, and Romney picks up almost none of those who see his private sector work negatively.
Romney goes negative: Slightly more see Romney than Gingrich as the candidate who attacked the others unfairly.
7:15 p.m. | President Obama crafts attitude of disinterest
While most political pundits turned tonight toward South Carolina in near-breathless anticipation of the GOP primary results, President Obama seemed to be doing his best to present an attitude of disinterest. Fifteen minutes before polls closed in South Carolina, he sent out a tweet about Monday night’s State of the Union:
A White House aide also told CNN that the president was not watching South Carolina returns.
7:05 p.m. | Polls closed; some networks call S.C. for Newt Gingrich
The South Carolina polls have closed, and several networks — Fox, NBC, and ABC -- have now called the race for former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
You can follow the results here; we’ll have more from the exit polls shortly.
7:02 p.m. | Polls close
From Edison Media Research: At 7 p.m. poll closing - exit polls show Gingrich leading Romney in the South Carolina primary.
7 p.m. | What our readers are predicting:
We asked for last minute South Carolina primary predictions, and our tweeps obliged. Here are their guesses:
6:49 p.m. | Romney campaign sends Gingrich an anniversary cake
A Fox News journalist captured an image of a cake Mitt Romney’s campaign sent to Newt Gingrich. It was not to help him celebrate. Instead, the cake took a dig at Gingrich’s ethics scandal. Today marks the 15th anniversary of the day Gingrich became the first Speaker of the House in its then-208-year history disciplined for ethical wrongdoing.
From a Jan. 22, 1997 Post story:
“Gingrich admitted that he brought discredit to the House and broke its rules by failing to ensure that financing for two projects would not violate federal tax law and by giving the House ethics committee false information.” Read the full story here.
6:40 p.m. | Romney to appear on 'Fox News Sunday'
NBC’s “Meet the Press” announced earlier Saturday that former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) would be its top guest Sunday morning.
Now “Fox News Sunday” has a GOP contender of its own.
The network announced Saturday night that Mitt Romney would appear on the show, which airs at 9 a.m. in the Washington area.
Also appearing on the Sunday shows will be former senator Rick Santorum: He’s scheduled to be on ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Gingrich had originally been scheduled to appear on “This Week” but his name no longer appears among the list of guests on the show’s Web site. A spokesman for ABC did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
6:29 p.m. | Romney rallies Greenville voters >
Below, Post photographer Nikki Kahn captured supporters cheering for Mitt Romney during a campaign stop in Greenville, S.C., on Saturday. View more photos
6:20 p.m. | The view from Sweatman's in Holly Hill
The Post’s Jason Horowitz spoke with voters in Holly Hill, S.C. earlier today. Here’s his dispatch:
After a morning of duck hunting, Edmund Hardy 72, and George McCutchen, 67, both clad in camouflage, dug into plates of pork at Sweatman’s, a barbeque restaurant in this rural town.
The two men, distant cousins from Columbia, had sent in absentee ballots earlier in the week for Mitt Romney, because they felt he had the best chance to beat President Obama. Hardy said that he had been leaning towards Newt Gingrich until a few days ago, but ultimately decided the former speaker had too much baggage to survive a general election.
“I like Newt, and I would love to see him in a cabinet position, he’s a bright guy,” said Hardy, who added that he believed the authenticity of Romney’s conservative conversion. “People can change, on abortion rights and things like that.”
McCutchen interrupted that Romney’s former stance on abortion “suits me fine.”
He explained that unlike most of his friends and family, he supported abortion rights and that Romney’s past position on the issue factored into his decision to support the former Massachusetts governor. “He probably hasn’t converted to be as adamant against abortion as people who believed it all their life.”
McCutchen said that one of the main reasons he voted for Romney, was that he wanted to “speed this process up and have it come to a conclusion.”
“I hate what’s going on,” Hardy agreed.
“The way they are beating each other up,” said McCutchen. “It opens wounds and unearths where the vulnerabilities are. Obama can exploit it.”
“And it will have more credibility when they are quoting Republicans,” said Hardy.
6:10 p.m. | 'Stay' awhile, and other South Carolina primary tunes >
You may remember it from “Dirty Dancing,” but it could just as well be the South Carolina song for whomever wins tonight’s primary. It also happens to be on our Spotify playlist of primay tunes (doo-wopper Maurice Williams hails from Lancaster, S.C.), as compiled by Fix blogger Rachel Weiner. Have Spotify? Take a listen!
5:40 p.m. | Exit Polls: "Can beat Obama" is most important quality
More early data from our Post Polls team:
Qualities: According to preliminary exit poll data, beating Barack Obama is even more important to South Carolina voters than it was to voters in New Hampshire or Iowa. Nearly half of all voters say beating the president in November is the single most important candidate quality, topping being “a true conservative,” having “the right experience” and having “strong moral character.”
Evangelicals: Evangelical Christians make up a big majority of voters in preliminary exit poll data, similar to 2008 when they made up six in 10 primary voters, and higher than the numbers in New Hampshire or Iowa this year.
Tea party voters:About two-thirds of early voters say they support the tea party political movement. That’s similar to the proportion of GOP caucus-goers in Iowa and higher than in New Hampshire.
Nikki Haley: One person who is comes out on top in the early exit poll numbers is Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who has around two-thirds of morning and afternoon voters saying they approve of the job she is doing.
5:40 p.m. | Exit polls: Economy is the top issue
Our Post Polls team has started putting together data on what motivations are driving votes today.
Debates: About two-thirds of South Carolina voters say recent debates were the most important thing in their voting decision, or one of several important factors.
Issues: Roughly six in 10 primary voters name the economy as the top issue in their vote according to preliminary exit poll results. Around a quarter picked the federal budget deficit, while much smaller numbers chose abortion or illegal immigration. Previous exit polls in New Hampshire and Iowa included health care instead of immigration as an option, but few voters in either of those states picked those issues as most important.
Independents: Around three in 10 primary voters in early exit polls identify as independents, up from four years ago, but less than in 2000. Of course those numbers could change as additional interviews are collected (the early numbers include only morning and early afternoon voters).
5:40 p.m. | Send us your last-minute primary predictions!>
An American Research Group survey from this morning of 600 likely Republican voters had Newt Gingrich lead ing the South Carolina primary with 40 percent, followed by Mitt Romney with 26 percent.
Polls close at 7 p.m., which leaves about 1 1/2 hours for your final primary predictions. Will it be Newt? Will it be Romney? (Newt pretty much swept the board over at PostPartisan.)
Tweet #SCpredictions Tweet us your thoughts on who will claim South Carolina with #SCpredictions on Twitter and we'll post them here, or send your predictions to Chris Cillizza for the chance to win a coveted Fix T-shirt .
5:35 p.m. | Pawlenty downplays S.C. expectations for Romney
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R), a onetime White House contender who is now one of Mitt Romney’s top surrogates, downplays expectations for South Carolina in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd:
“Obviously, he hopes to win, but if you step back from the sentiment of the moment, South Carolina we always said, and Mitt always said, was going to be an uphill climb for him. So, if he can be somewhere at or near the top of the results tonight, I think that’s a good result for Mitt – not judging against the sentiment of today, but looking at it, as you’ve done, for many weeks and months about South Carolina and how Mitt might do there.”
Pawlenty also argues that Romney “has a campaign that’s built to last” well past the Palmetto State:
“He’s the only candidate in the race who’s got a campaign that’s built to go the distance. He’s got the organization, the resources to go down to Florida and compete and win in Florida and in all the states beyond. Not all the other candidates can say that.”
5:30 p.m. | Ron Paul supporters create their own information silo
One of the PACs that supports Rep. Ron Paul in South Carolina has declared a media blackout, and started its own webcast to cover the election. In a press release, Revolution PAC writes, “the super committee is calling for a nationwide boycott of cable/network outlets, which have exhibited bias against Rep. Paul in their reporting.”
The webcast marks the trend The Post’s Marc Fisher explored in South Carolina. Fisher watched how three different people consumed news and found that more than ever before people are “tucking themselves inside information silos where they see mainly what they already agree with.” He writes:
The result, according to voters, campaign strategists and a raft of studies that track users’ news choices, is an electorate in which conservatives and liberals often have not only their own opinions but also their own sets of facts, making it harder than ever to approach common ground.”
5:03 p.m. | Newt Gingrich tests his skills at a drive-thru>
Newt Gingrich served up his politics at a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru. It’s another food-centric campaign stop for the front-runner in tonight’s election, but unlike the Showdown at the Ham House, Mitt Romney was nowhere to be seen. Possibly because he was busy with his laundry. The New York Times’ Caucus blog caught Gingrich at the window:
5 p.m. | Where are the candidates spending their primary night?
Here’s a look at where the candidates are holding their primary night events:
Mitt Romney: South Carolina State Fairgrounds, Columbia, S.C.
Newt Gingrich: Hilton Hotel, Columbia, S.C.
Ron Paul: Jillian’s, Columbia, S.C.
Rick Santorum: The Citadel, Charleston, S.C.
4:35 p.m. | The @MentionMachine leaderboard: Before the #SCPrimary
Here’s how the candidates stand on the @MentionMachine leaderboard before polls close in South Carolina.
4:20 p.m. | Tornado Watch empties polling stations>
A Tornado Watch is in effect in parts of South Carolina, though the National Weather Service reduced the area that could be hit by the severe weather. All the same, there are reports that fierce thunderstorms are slowing down the voter turnout.
The areas in yellow are under a Tornado Watch:
4:10 p.m. | Mitt Romney cleans up
The oldest Romney son, Tagg, caught his parents catching up on laundry on the afternoon of the South Carolina primary.
Nothing like the glamorous life on the road twitter.com/tromney/status…— Tagg Romney (@tromney) January 21, 2012
The photo reminds us of a week earlier in the campaign, when Mitt Romney’s Twitter feed went through an “every man” phase, sending photos from meals at Subway and Carl’s Jr. and flying on Southwest Airlines.
4:01 p.m. | Voters weigh Republican candidates up to the last minute (video)>
2:51 p.m. | Voter turnout mixed amid South Carolina storms>
The South Carolina State Election commission has posted anecdotal voter turnout reports for counties across the Palmetto State, where thunderstorms have made for a soggy election day. We checked in on the counties that might offer an indication of how the primary will end up (according to our friends at The Fix), and reports were mixed:
• Beaufort - no reports
• Greenville - “Heavy in precincts where expected (traditionally heavy Republican precincts)”
• Horry - no reports
• Lexington - “Mostly light, but steady in some precincts”
• York -“Some precincts heavier than 2008, 18-20% at 1:30 p.m., others have been moderate”
Check out The Fix’s full list of five counties to watch in the South Carolina primary.
1:20 p.m., Sullivan's Island, S.C. | 'I think we've reached a point where we need someone who's mean'
At Sunrise Presbyterian Church in Sullivan’s Island, S.C., Jean and husband Harold Wade both said they liked Mitt Romney but thought Newt Gingrich would make a better match against President Obama and didn’t want to see the race end after South Carolina.
“I want to keep things going for a bit,” said Jean Wade, 82. “There’s more that needs to be said. ... I don’t know that Newt can sustain this. But while he’s in it, there’s going to be a lot more that gets said and a lot more explained about why Republicans are different than what we’ve got.”
“I think Mitt Romney is a good man,” said Harold Wade, 85, who retired from a landscaping business he owned. “But I think we’ve reached a point where we need someone who’s mean.”
“What we need is someone who’s got some brains,” he added, explaining his support for Newt Gingrich. “And we need someone with some guts.”
Joe Schill, 70, a retired Bell South worker voting at a church in Sullivan’s Island, said he was a long time supporter of Gingrich’s – and while he doesn’t have a flattering opinion of any politician, he said Gingrich is better than most.
“Newt is down-to-earth and tells it like it is,” he said. Romney, on the other hand, “is a silver tongued devil.”
Jim Near, 56, a Realtor and meteorologist from Mount Pleasant, said he voted for Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), after feeling torn between Paul, Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
Romney, he said, never entered the equation.
“He’s too slick for me. Too polished,” Near said. He said the image was bolstered by Romney’s responses this week to questions about whether he would release his tax records. “It’s that slickness. We all pay taxes. There should be no issue there. His responses were no good.”
In the end, he feared Gingrich had too much baggage and did not believe Santorum could win.
“Ron Paul seems the most honest. He’s not trying to portray himself as anything other than who he is,” Near said.
— Rosalind S. Helderman
1:06 p.m. | Crisis averted at Tommy's Ham House
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were on a collision course Saturday morning, both in the polls and on the trail: the two presidential hopefuls had somehow managed to schedule campaign stops at the same popular breakfast venue at the same time, 10:45 a.m.
Would the two engage in a campaign-trail confrontation? A ham house showdown?
As it happens, tensions were defused after Romney showed up 45 minutes earlier than expected, greeting diners at Tommy’s and then hopping into his campaign bus before Gingrich had even arrived.
But that didn’t stop Gingrich from having a little fun at Romney’s expense. The former House speaker poked fun at Romney’s northern roots by noting that New England clam chowder was not on the menu.
12:45 p.m., Mount Pleasant | 'It's okay to be successful in this country'
Danny Causey, who has run a popular neighborhood barbershop in Mount Pleasant for decades (walls and ceilings covered with pennants, autographed photo of Strom Thurmond on the wall), says that his clients seem more unsettled in their choices than in any election year he can remember.
“It’s kind of difficult this year. Everybody I talk to, they want to, they want a change from the president we got. They just don’t know which way to go,” he said. “Some of the ones they like the best, they think they don’t have a chance.” So he senses a shift toward Mitt Romney among his customers.
E.P. Chiola, who was coming out of his polling place at a beachfront Presbyterian church on Sullivan’s Island, said that “of all of them together, the one to give them the best battle up there is Gingrich.”
Chiola had originally thought he would vote for Rick Santorum, but after getting at least 20 phone calls at home, changed his mind.
“The more I thought about it, the more I decided I’m looking for a good fight,” he said.
Michael and Elizabeth Ricciardone, a hospital administrator and a retired college professor, said coming out of the school where they voted in Mount Pleasant that they had decided long ago to vote for Romney and never wavered. Key factors are his business know-how and character, they said.
“It’s okay to be successful in this country. Redistribution of wealth is not in my vocabulary,” Michael Ricciardone said.
— Karen Tumulty