The rollercoaster ride that has been the Republican presidential nominating race grew more turbulent Saturday as former House speaker Newt Gingrich rode to victory in the South Carolina primary. His win also is history making. Never before has there been three separate winners in the first three GOP primary contests. Iowa confirmed late Friday that former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is the winner of that state’s caucuses.
It also was a serious blow to the presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney, to whom for months Republican voters have been sending the message that they’re just not that into him, despite his well-run and financed organization and the conventional wisdom that he’s the best bet to beat President Obama in November.
Both Romney and Gingrich faced some awkward moments in South Carolina this week. Gingrich faced allegations by his second wife that he’d wanted an open marriage, and Romney was confronted about his wealth and the fact that he “probably” pays less in federal income taxes than the average middle class family.
Just days ago, Gingrich trailed Romney in the polls, but he turned the liability of his former wife’s charges into an asset during Thursday’s GOP debate when he responded with indignation that the mere mention of the issue in such a setting was “despicable,” while Romney responded clumsily to requests that he release his tax returns and questions about what sort of information they might reveal.
CBS News reports that Gingrich’s strong performance during the last two debates helped give him the edge. Fifty-three percent of respondents in exit polls said they made up their minds in the last few days.
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