Newt Gingrich Wins the South Carolina Primary

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Blogging news and events from the Palmetto State as voters handed the former speaker a big win

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11:15 p.m. Final Tally. The final results, with 99 percent of votes in: Gingrich 40, Romney 28, Santorum 17, Paul 13. That's it for the night. Don't miss analysis from Robert Wright and Molly Ball.

9:49 p.m. Gingrich Speaks. The former speaker just finished speaking after his triumph. It's a tough speech to summarize: Gingrich touched on a variety of topics in almost stream-of-consciousness style while ticking off a variety of conservative bugaboos (Saul Alinsky, czars, Keystone XL, bowing to Saudi kings, the perfidy of elites). He conspicuously avoided attacking Mitt Romney or any of the other GOP candidates. Gingrich even seemed a bit humbled at the start. His remarks were lengthy, given the occasion, and it's safe to say that debates, not speeches, remain his strong suit.

8:36 p.m. Saturday Night Insta-Analysis. Molly Ball is writing a complete analysis of tonight's results later, but here are a few points to think on for the time being.

  • It isn't easy being Mitt. Before Thursday's debate, Romney had a double-digit lead in South Carolina and two victories -- Iowa and New Hampshire -- already under his belt. When he goes to bed tonight, he'll only have one victory, and New Hampshire was always considered a gimme for him (sorry, Jon Huntsman). Romney still has the best organization and biggest war-chest in the field, but there's no question that he suddenly looks much more vulnerable.
  • Gingrich's surprising demographics. Obviously, Gingrich -- a volatile, thrice-married, hothead -- is weak among women, evangelicals, and voter whose foremost concern is beating Obama, right? Not so much. Per CNN, Gingrich won a plurality of "conservative" and "very conservative" voters (no surprise) but he also won a plurality of women, married women, and evangelicals. He won a whopping 42 percent of the last group, with Romney taking 22 and Santorum, for all his social conservative credentials, getting only 20 percent. And the Georgina won nearly half of the voters who said their first priority is beating Obama. Apparently, Gingrich's pitch that is debating skills made him the only candidate capable of taking on the president convinced voters, but the result means that either South Carolinians are wrong, or every pundit in America is wrong. Time will tell.
  • Nikki Haley's bad night. If Mitt Romney had the worst day in South Carolina today, the governor had the second worst. Romney worked hard to woo her and finally did get convince her to back him, but she took a risk in doing so: she was on everyone's vice-presidential short list, and she'd check important boxes for Romney (female, southern, evangelical, and Tea Party). Hut she risked alienating Tea Partiers who helped elect her but don't trust Romney, who they see as a moderate. She lost that gamble, and looks a lot weaker now: she's squandered valuable in-state political capital, and any GOP nominee (including Romney) is going to be skeptical of her ability to deliver as a running mate, too.
  • Obama's good night. Campaign manager Jim Messina is going to sleep well tonight, because his boss got lucky. Not many commentators, even on the right, see Gingrich going all the way to the nomination, but no one doubts his capacity to tear down a rival -- a skill he proved with tonight's results. While Chicago would be delighted to run against a candidate with Gingrich's baggage, they're also OK with a scenario in which Gingrich hangs around for a long time and bloodies Romney up, so he's already punch-drunk by the general election. And if Newt somehow pulls it out and gets the nod? Even better, as far as Obama is concerned.

8:24 p.m. Playing the Hate Card. The Atlantic's Robert Wright has his analysis of the race up: "How Newt Won in Carolina: By Playing the Hate Card." Read it.

8:05 p.m. Romney's Speech. He's giving it now. Romney started off thanking Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor whose endorsement he fiercely sought, only to lose the primary. But the heart of this speech is an attack on Gingrich, without naming him, for "demonizing success" and using "the weapons of the left," a particularly strong line: "Those who use those weapons today will see them turned against us tomorrow," he said.

7:34 p.m. County-by-County Results. Politico has a good map of the results from South Carolina as they come in, using Associated Press data. As you'll see, there are still very few votes counted -- just 0.5 percent as of writing. Rather jarringly, there are more votes for Romney so far, despite the call for Gingrich, because many results are in from the Charleston area, where Romney had strong support.

7:20 p.m. How He Did It. The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty puts her finger on it:

For the record, neither CNN nor the Associated Press has not called the race for Gingrich, but the other networks have. UPDATE, 7:22 p.m.: The AP now calls the race for Gingrich.

7:06 p.m. It's Gingrich. Both MSNBC and Fox are calling the primary for Newt Gingrich. Now the only question is how much he won by.

7:01 p.m. Whither Santorum? Something we're not hearing much about today is Rick Santorum. Despite his newly declared victory in Iowa, he's been something of an afterthought to the Romney-Gingrich battle. If he finishes a respectable third, he can make a compelling case for going on. But if he's well behind both of the others, it's tough to see his argument for staying in, since he still lacks the money and organization of Romney and the name-recognition and sheer indestructability of Gingrich, who has retaken the anti-Mitt mantle (it's a foregone conclusion that Rep. Ron Paul isn't going anywhere, regardless of how he does today). If Santorum gets trounced today, it's a double-whammy to Iowa. The Hawkeye State political establishment is already wringing its hands over the caucus recount controversy. If it looks like the Pennsylvanian is out, it will suggest that not only is Iowa incompetent at counting its votes, it's too susceptible to politicians who are willing to shake every hand in the state but aren't really viable outside of it.

7 p.m. And polls are closed.

6:56 p.m. A Trojan horse? A little earlier, we mentioned that there's talk of Dems going out to vote for Gingrich, hoping to push the GOP into the arms of a man they see as unpredictable and unelectable. It's not just average South Carolinians. Our own Molly Ball saw Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Floridian head of the Democratic National Party, at Gingrich's victory party. Was she there as a supporter? "Yes, absolutely." Snarky!

6:54 p.m. For What It's Worth. Here's some analysis from famed political guru Alec Baldwin:

6:45 p.m. Friendly Reminder. Polls close in 15 minutes.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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