Polls close in South Carolina at 7 pm eastern time, and most observers now expect Newt Gingrich to beat Mitt Romney. Gingrich led the last several polls to come out of the state, and an unnamed Romney aide is spinning a tale about a Newt win being good for the GOP front-runner going forward.
Any comments about the Republican presidential primaries are welcome in this thread. I don’t think Rick Santorum will drop out at this stage, even if he finishes a distant third or fourth place tonight. He may as well stick it out until the Florida primary on January 31, to see whether Gingrich fades again as the preferred “not Romney.” Whether Santorum has the money to compete is another question. Romney has been up on Florida tv and radio for a while. Gingrich is running what sounds like a devastating Spanish-language radio ad against Romney, although Cuban-American GOP members of Congress from South Florida have endorsed Romney.
UPDATE: It’s Newt by a mile. With about 88 percent of the votes counted, Gingrich has 40.5 percent of the vote, Romney 27.0 percent, Santorum 17.4 percent and Ron Paul 13.4 percent. Excerpts from the candidates’ speeches tonight are after the jump.
LATER UPDATE: With 100 percent reporting, Gingrich received 40.4 percent of the vote, Romney 27.9 percent, Santorum 17.0 percent and Paul 13.0 percent. Gingrich won 23 of South Carolina’s delegates, while Romney won the other two. Romney carried only three counties.
Gingrich told a cheering crowd tonight, “It’s not that I am a good debater. It’s that I articulate the deepest felt values of the American people.” Tapping into one of his biggest applause lines throughout the campaign, he promised to be the most effective pay check president, in contrast to Barack Obama, the “most effective food stamp president in American history.” Gingrich also said Paul had been right about monetary policy for 25 years and had a few nice things to say about Santorum and Romney too.
“Unfortunately, our country has been very lackadaisical. And this is what we’re reviving – and that is, we’re lackadaisical about our understanding and our trust in freedom. This is what we need: We need to restore the confidence that if we want a free and prosperous society, we have to understand the necessity of assuming responsibility for ourselves.”
Santorum touted his “working-class values” and made clear that he is not leaving the “wide open” race anytime soon. He said Gingrich “kicked butt” and predicted the GOP primaries would “go on for a long time.”
Romney also referred to “a long primary season” in his speech to supporters tonight:
Romney spent most of the rest of his speech criticizing President Obama, though he criticized his GOP rivals for what he cast as their attacks on “free enterprise” — that is, his tenure running Bain Capital, a venture-capital firm that sometimes laid off employees at the companies it took over. “The Republican Party doesn’t demonize prosperity, we celebrate success in our party,” he said, adding that Republicans who join Democrats in such criticisms “are not going to be fit to be our nominee.” Gingrich has been a vocal critic of Romney’s tenure at Bain.