CHARLESTON, S.C. — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has won South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary.
Citing projections, Fox News called the race for Gingrich as soon as the polls closed in the Palmetto State on Saturday night.
It appears former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will finish in second place. Fox has also declared that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum will finish third, leaving Texas Rep. Ron Paul in last place among the four remaining candidates.
“This race is getting to be even more interesting,” Romney said in Columbia, during his election night remarks.
Before the projections were made, Romney’s campaign sought to lower expectations for the race that just days ago looked like a sure win.
“I think we’re going to lose tonight,” an anonymous Romney aide on Saturday told BuzzFeed. “We could lose big.”
The former House speaker headed into Saturday evening smiling, buoyed by polls that suggest he could win the Palmetto State primary by double digits.
Things changed quickly this week in South Carolina: Romney was leading in the polls and Gingrich was drawing criticism for attack ads from a pro-Gingrich Super PAC about Romney’s time at the helm of Bain Capital.
But six days and two debates later, Gingrich seemed to turn everything around. He caught a big break Thursday when Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race and endorsed him.
He gave strong performances during the debates and managed to put Romney on his heels about his failure to release his personal income tax returns.
Even an interview with Gingrich’s ex-wife on “Nightline,” during which she accused him of asking for an open marriage so he could continue his affair with his current wife Callista, couldn’t derail him. In fact, Gingrich managed to turn it into an opportunity, attacking CNN’s John King for bringing it up at Thursday’s debate and earning ovations from the crowd.
As veteran Republican strategist Chip Felkel pointed out, “going after the media’s pretty popular in South Carolina with Republicans.”
The Republican Party of Iowa on Friday officially announced that Santorum won the caucuses there. But polls show that Santorum, who is holding an election night party at the Citadel in Charleston, has not been able to capitalize on that momentum in the Palmetto State.
His aides have said he plans to continue his campaign to Florida regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul has not devoted significant amount of resources to this contest, choosing instead to focus on future caucus states.
Romney won New Hampshire’s primary. If Gingrich would win the South Carolina contest on Saturday night, it would be the first time in modern electoral history that a different candidate won each of the three earliest contests.
Polls close at 7 p.m tonight.
Alexis Levinson contributed to this report.