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Newt Gingrich takes South Carolina primary, Romney speaks to supporters



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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Moments after television networks called the election for former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney's supporters gathered for they had hoped would be a victory party started chanting, "Florida, here we come."

Romney spoke to the small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in a state fairgrounds hall nearly an hour after the polls closed at 7 p.m., criticizing his now chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination for "demonizing success."

After congratulating Gingrich, who has been counted out at least twice this election season, Romney did not mention him by name again. But he said the party does not need a nominee who "has never run a business and never run a state," or one that attacks free enterprise.

Gingrich has hammered Romney's record as the head of Bain Capital, a firm that attempted to turn around troubled businesses, often by firing employees. Romney told the crowd that "he's attacking you" for believing in the American ideal of success.

"This is a battle we cannot lose," Romney said, promising to compete in every state if necessary to secure the nomination. "I don't shrink from competition. I embrace it," the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City said.

Saturday's election results were a crushing disappointment for Donna Lawson, who had backed Romney in his first bid for the White House in 2008, too. At first, she refused to accept the results announced by the major networks.

"He is not a Southerner," Lawson said. "He is from Massachusetts, which tends to be a very liberal state. Newt Gingrich is from Georgia, even though he lives in Washington."

Her husband, Philip Lawson, said he was "really disappointed in the people of South Carolina. That's all I am saying. I don't think that Newt Gingrich can get elected because he has so much baggage. He's got a smart mouth."

After a strong showing in Iowa and a win in New Hampshire, Romney had been expected to win the first southern state to vote this election year until support suddenly surged for Gingrich.

The shift towards Gingrich was widely attributed to his harsh condemnation of the media while denying allegations from an ex-wife that he sought an open marriage.


This is a battle we cannot lose. I don't shrink from competition. I embrace it.

–- Mitt Romney


South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, who served as Romney's state chairman here, said Gingrich's popularity is "almost all the debate performances. It was an emotional appeal to the conservative voters of the state. I have real problems with that because I don't think pithy one-liners or conservatives running against the media does anything to advance the republic."

That's not Romney's style, Loftis said. "I think he's a strong debater. He loves the ideas. He loves the issues. But he's just not one of these guys who can play to the media."

South Carolina voters, Loftis said, are "emotional people. We're conservative people. And I mean these are my brothers and sisters. This is who we are. I get it … it has an effect on me."

Earlier Saturday, voters trickled into the Westminster Presbyterian Church despite stormy weather to cast their ballots in a primary election that could shift the course of the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

"I do appreciate and admire speaker Gingrich's aggressiveness on the issues. He comes right out and says what's on his mind and what needs to be done," said Realtor Frank Boyd, who cast his ballot at the church for Gingrich.

Boyd said he "was very aware of his personal issues" but that they had only "a minor bearing" on his vote. "Considering the state of the nation, I have to make some trade-offs there on who I think is really best for our nation."

Jim Koon, a retired phone company worker and part-time truck driver, said he voted for Gingrich, "the only one who can beat Obama because he can stand toe-to-toe on that podium and out-talk Obama."

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Koon said the allegations that surfaced this week against Gingrich "made me want to vote for him more." He said no job seekers should have to worry about their former spouses being contacted.

Earlier Saturday, at a Columbia polling location, Justin Green said he considered voting for Romney but went for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum instead.

"I felt like Mitt Romney has some hidden agendas, some things hidden that have not come out completely," Green, a veteran and university student, said after casting his vote at the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

With Santorum, Green said, "there's been no hidden ideas, no hidden beliefs. We know where he stands fundamentally. We know where he stands morally, what his beliefs are."

Green said he had concerns with Romney being a Mormon because of the money Romney tithes to his church.

"Religion is a touchy subject," Green said. "I feel like whatever your religious preference is, that's your preference, but to donate millions to a specific (church) … are you going to push for Christian beliefs or are you going to push for Mormon beliefs?"

Jim Koon, a retired phone company worker and part-time truck driver, said he voted for Gingrich, "the only one who can beat Obama because he can stand toe-to-toe on that podium and out-talk Obama."

Koon said the allegations that surfaced this week against Gingrich "made me want to vote for him more." He said no job seekers should have to worry about their former spouses being contacted.

"That's bull. That's bull jive," Koon said. "That's the lowest people can go, to do that. I'm divorced myself. I'm glad they didn't go back and check on me. That's why I voted for Newt Gingrich."

Koon said he considered voting for Santorum, but decided he didn't have enough of a chance. "If I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn't going to throw my vote away, I'd vote for him," he said.

Realtor Frank Boyd also voted for Gingrich.

"I do appreciate and admire speaker Gingrich's aggressiveness on the issues," Boyd said. "He comes right out and says what's on his mind and what needs to be done."

Boyd said he "was very aware of (Gingrich's) personal issues" but that they had only "a minor bearing" on his vote. "Considering the state of the nation, I have to make some trade-offs there on who I think is really best for our nation."

Kris Militello, a middle school art teacher, said she had hoped to vote for either Texas Gov. Rick Perry or businessman Herman Caine, but settled on Romney after they dropped out of the race.

"I really liked Herman Caine. I think he would have given Obama an excellent fight. I would have loved to have seen that," Militello said. "But Romney's my man. I think he'll do well."

Written by Lisa Riley Roche with contributions from John Daley.

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