Gingrich surges to first place in newest polls


WALTERBORO, SC - JANUARY 19: Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks during a campaign stop at the Low Country Sportsmen BBQ for Newt event on January 19, 2012 in Walterboro, South Carolina. Newt received an endorsement from Texas Governor Rick Perry who dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination for President. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


Joe Raedle

WASHINGTON — Newt Gingrich surged ahead of Mitt Romney in a batch of polls released today, is easily within striking distance of the front-runner just two days before South Carolina's primary. Romney, whose lead in the polls there slipped over the past week even as candidates Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry exited the race, was until recently projected to take the state.

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Three separate automated polls, all conducted on Wednesday, placed Newt Gingrich ahead of Mitt Romney for the first time in weeks. Romney’s support in South Carolina has been steady since he was declared the winner in Iowa and swept New Hampshire, even as his slim 8 vote lead in Iowa was today reversed.

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Nate Silver of the New York Times said Sarah Palin's veiled endorsement may have helped, but cautioned that developments over the next few days could change anything:

There are also an unusually high number of developing news stories in the closing days of the campaign, including Mr. Perry’s leaving the race and endorsing Mr. Gingrich, new ambiguity about the results of the Iowa caucuses, tonight’s debate and the interview given to ABC News by Marianne Gingrich, the candidate’s second wife. Although it is worthwhile to monitor the polls carefully, we will almost certainly go into Saturday evening with a lot of uncertainty about the outcome.

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Silver's vote projection says Gingrich and Romney both have a 50-50 chance at taking the state. No modern GOP candidate has secured the nomination without winning South Carolina.

The news tops what Politico called the “wildest day” of the campaign so far. In an article the newspaper said if Gingrich is unable to seize the momentum of Palin's half endorsement and Perry's full endorsement, "Romney is likely to seize the nomination in South Carolina and seal it in Florida at the end of the month."