CHARLESTON, S.C. — Surprising his rivals and scrambling the Republican race for the presidency, Newt Gingrich won the pivotal South Carolina primary Saturday, just 10 days after a distant finish in New Hampshire left the impression that his candidacy was all but dead.
It was a striking development in a months-long Republican nominating contest that has seen the restive base of conservative voters ping-pong among the alternatives to the party establishment’s favorite, Mitt Romney.
With late-night tallies showing Mr. Gingrich beating Mr. Romney by 12 percentage points, it was no small win. Exit polls showed Mr. Gingrich had done it with a formidable coalition of groups that have resisted Mr. Romney’s candidacy all election season long: evangelical Christians, Tea Party supporters and those who call themselves “very conservative.”
Mr. Gingrich now heads to Florida, where he faces a daunting test in seeking to capitalize on his new status as the candidate who poses a singular, insurgent threat to Mr. Romney. He used his victory speech to cast himself as the champion of the party’s anti-establishment wing, reprising his popular castigation of the news media and other “elites” while keeping his focus on the defeat of President Obama.
Standing beside his wife, Callista, as he addressed an exuberant crowd in Columbia, Mr. Gingrich attributed his victory to “something very fundamental that I wish the powers that be in the news media will take seriously: The American people feel that they have elites who have been trying for a half-century to force us to quit being American and become some kind of other system.”
Complimenting the other candidates, he repeated his criticism of Mr. Obama as the best “food stamp president” in history, saying he, by contrast, would be the “best paycheck president.”
The crowd greeted Mr. Gingrich with chants of “Newt can win,” their answer to the party establishment’s doubts about his ability to ultimately defeat Mr. Romney.
But for a night, at least, there was no arguing with the results.
Just 10 days before, Mr. Romney left New Hampshire as the presumed front-runner. He now moves on to the next fight claiming just one of the first three nominating contests, having been stripped last week of his incorrectly declared victory in the Iowa caucuses. That win was instead given to Rick Santorum, who placed third in South Carolina on Saturday.
“This race is getting to be even more interesting,” Mr. Romney, with circles under his eyes and an unfamiliar pallor after days of hard campaigning here, told his supporters in Columbia. “This is a hard fight because there is so much worth fighting for. We’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of work to do.”
But Mr. Romney still has a considerable advantage over Mr. Gingrich when it comes to money and organization, both of which will be vital in the expensive campaign state of Florida, which has its primary on Jan. 31. And Florida is different political terrain from South Carolina, where Mr. Gingrich had cultivated the Tea Party movement’s leaders since its start.
Mr. Romney and the “super PAC” supporting him have been advertising heavily in Florida for weeks, including on Spanish-language television. An analysis by Kantar Media/CMAG shows that Mr. Romney has spent at least $4 million on advertising there.
Mr. Romney’s team was expected to come into the state trumpeting major endorsements and reasserting his status as a favorite of the biggest names in Republican politics. But his hopes of landing the coveted endorsement of former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida were dashed when Mr. Bush said he would not make an endorsement. He told Bloomberg News that Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum had all sought his support.
He called on the candidates to leave the “circular firing squad” of their rivalry and make sure that the tone of their debate did not alienate independent voters, especially on immigration. And Mr. Romney should release his tax returns while competing in Florida, Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Gingrich and his supportive super PAC — which pounded Mr. Romney here relentlessly — have not advertised in Florida yet, though Mr. Gingrich has visited the state often. On one visit last week, he told Floridians that his plan was to win in South Carolina and then compete strongly there. It seemed unlikely then.
Mr. Gingrich seized on his South Carolina victory less than an hour after the polls closed.
“Thank you South Carolina! Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida. Join our Moneybomb and donate now,” he wrote on his Twitter feed. His campaign placed a large ad on the Web site the Drudge Report, popular among conservatives, seeking donations as well.
Marjorie Connelly and Katharine Q. Seelye contributed reporting from Charleston, and Allison Kopicki from New York.
View the original article in NYTimes.com
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