The win for Gingrich was his first of the 2012 primary season and gives him a lot of momentum heading into the Jan. 31 primary in Florida.
Coming off strong showings in debates along the South Carolina coast, Gingrich will have a chance to stun a Florida audience with two more chances to challenge Romney, and possibly the media. In fact, Saturday night’s win is going to be short-lived for the former House speaker because there is a debate Monday night in Tampa.
There is a second debate Thursday night in Jacksonville.
According to exit polls, the debates helped the thousands of undecided voters in the Palmetto state to turn into Gingrich supporters.
Moments after the polls closed, several news agencies had declared Gingrich the winner. Within an hour, the Associated Press corroborated the projection. What followed was four hours of confirmation as poll numbers trickled in across the state.
Romney delivered his concession speech shortly before 8 p.m., hours before the complete unofficial tally had been completed.
His supporters roared as he took the podium and Romney joked, “You should hear them when we win.”
He said he called Gingrich to congratulate him and promised his supporters he was far from throwing in the towel.
“In the coming weeks and months I’ll keep fighting for every single vote. I will compete in every single state,” Romney said.
In the Santorum camp, the attempt to win over the state’s evangelical Republicans fell flat as more voters opted for economic response and jobs plans over social issues. The shift in attention left Santorum in third place.
Santorum conceded the Southern race, but said the nomination was still up for grabs. “Three states, three winners. What a great country,” he said to a crowd of supporters.
Santorum took shots at Romney and Gingrich without naming them specifically, but said he was running a new kind of campaign.
“I’m going to go out and talk about how we’re going to have a Republican Party, a conservative movement, that makes sure everyone in America has the opportunity to rise, not just those who have maybe advantage, maybe had a little bit more opportunity than somebody else,” he said.
But he did congratulate Gingrich. “Good job buddy, good job,” Santorum said.
While Paul finished in last place, his supporters remained some of the most active and vocal in the race. He has even shown in recent polls that his Libertarian ideas are taking hold in the South.
Paul finished with 13 percent of the vote in Saturday’s primary, more than triple the support he picked up in 2008.
“The message of liberty is being received by more people every single day,” he said. “There’s no doubt our numbers have been growing.”
“There’s every reason to be encouraged,” Paul added.
From here, the candidates move into Florida. After Florida, the Nevada caucuses are on Feb. 4 and Main’s caucuses run from Feb. 4 to 11.
Feb. 7, the candidates will split their time between caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a primary in Missouri.