US tag: Gingrich leaves competitors behind in South Carolina primary

Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (L) speaks during a primary night rally with his wife Callista Gingrich January 21, 2012 in Columbia, South Carolina (T.J. Kirkpatrick / Getty Images / AFP)
Former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich has won a very clear victory in the Republican primary in South Carolina, breaking a 30-year tradition. It’s the first time since 1980 that three different candidates have won the first three primaries.

­Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich beat Mitt Romney, who was widely seen as the frontrunner.  With nearly all the votes counted, Gingrich got 40 per cent in the conservative US state of South Carolina, where the first Southern primaries are held.

Romney follows him with 28 per cent.

Gingrich’s surprise triumph puts him at the head of the race to be the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama.

Gingrich performed poorly in the other two primaries, which until now had been seen as more of a success for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and private equity firm chief.

The South Carolina win by Gingrich means the three state-by-state contests held so far have yielded three different winners – Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucus on January 3, and Romney won New Hampshire on January 10.

Political analysts say the primaries in South Carolina are crucial – since 1980, the Republican winner in that state has invariably been voted the official candidate at the party’s national convention.  

In the race for delegates in the early stages, Gingrich has 25, Romney has 33 and Rick Santorum has 14 delegates.

Candidates need 1,144 delegates to win the party's presidential nomination.

Now the main intrigue is whether Gingrich will repeat his success in Florida, where 50 delegates will struggle for victory in the state-by-state battle in just nine days from now, on January 31.

There will be six contests in February, with a total of 178 delegates at stake. The most exciting and critical event is Super Tuesday, slated for March 6, with more than 400 delegates at stake in 10 states.

Primaries and caucuses will be held in every US state over the next few months to pick a Republican nominee. The eventual winner, who will take on Democratic President Barack Obama in November’s elections, will be named at the party convention in August.

It is known that the Democrats’ primaries in South Carolina are scheduled for February 28.